I touched down at the Chibougamau-Chapais airport in the morning, where instantly the cold and rainy weather reminded me I am now in the kingdom of the black spruce. This vast virgin territory in North Central Quebec possesses unsuspected natural and human wealth. Bordering the taiga and tundra on the north, it is full of immense lakes, rushing rivers of crystalline waters and never-ending forests.
I drove up highway 167 N to a community called Mistissini. Mistissini is the largest Cree community of the James Bay Cree of Quebec, Canada. The Cree Nation of Mistissini is situated at the south-east end of Mistassini Lake - the largest freshwater lake in Quebec - and is also in the centre of the largest wildlife reserve in the province.
The Cree have lived in the region for thousands of years, and their lifestyle is based on hunting, fishing and trapping. The Crees of Mistissini have been long-establish in the Mistassini Lake area, surrounded by the forests, lakes and streams of the region. ‘Mistissini’, Cree for ‘big rock’, was formerly referred to as Mistassini or Baie du Poste. The Mistissini Crees cherish their rich cultural heritage, vital present and vibrant future.
Driving through the Mistissini main roads, I could sense the effort that has been put into the creative architecture and innovative design of new building construction. Their newly designed structures are known to use sustainably locally sourced building materials. They are looking at becoming a more eco-friendly destination, and combining innovation and tradition into their their construction is a key element to infrastructure development.
I had the opportunity to meet with Mistissini community members and hear them talk about their land and culture, hopes and aspirations for their community. I met with people who spoke to me openly about their Cree cultures, their challenges and difficulties on a daily basis as urbanization and modernization is settling among them. But I learned that even though the town is growing with modern amenities and services, they are still grounded in their traditions. They have a high respect for Elders and they believe in empowering and investing in Youth. As one Mistissini community leader described it: ‘Our Elders hold the wisdom of past generations, our Youth are the key to the future. Both groups are essential to a strong, healthy community.’ A sense of sustainability is embedded in their vision and deepest values.
Respect for culture, protection of the environment, support for entrepreneurship and improvement of the living conditions of the community are pillars for the development of the community and the development of Mistissini as a tourist destination. Mistissini has the potential to offer distinctive and comprehensive experiences by integrating the values of sustainable development, sharing of traditions, and community integration.