October 14, 2009
First Nations presence: one of Québec’s wealth of assets to be discovered
Several hundred years ago, it was the indigenous or First Nations peoples who welcomed the great European explorers to the shores of modern-day Québec. And to this day, First Nations culture remains very much present in a number of regions. The history and development of Québec are intimately linked to these original inhabitants who represent a fascinating aspect of our culture to be shared with cruise passengers stopping in at one or other of the ports of call along the St Lawrence River.
Québec, Saguenay, Sept-Îles, Havre-Saint-Pierre and Gaspé are the ports of call where Huron, Mi’kmaq and Innu First Nations communities can be found. Each is ripe with an extraordinary opportunity to learn more about the history, traditions and lifestyles of the region’s indigenous peoples.
Innu encounter at Sept-Îles
The word ‘Innu’ means ‘true people’ and refers to the original inhabitants of the land. They are also called ‘Montagnais’, a name which was given to them by early European explorers in reference to the mountainous terrain of Québec’s North Shore. A nomadic people of hunters, fishers and gatherers, the Innu adapt their lifestyle to the change in seasons. Living in close proximity to water, they set up camp on the shores of the St Lawrence River in summer and migrate further north—some to areas around Lac Saint-Jean—to hunt in winter. Making up one of the largest First Nations groups in Québec, the community includes some 15 000 Innu living mainly in the Saguenay or on the North Shore. In addition to being skilled hunters, the Innu are known for their wood and stone sculptures, drawings, paintings and engravings. Some 3000 Innu live just outside Sept-Îles. They travel by rail to the land of their ancestors to hunt and stock up on provisions.
At the Port of Sept-Îles, visitors enjoy a unique opportunity to engage in a one-of-a-kind experience with the local Innu nation.
- Rail and River operates a journey of discovery up the Moisie River. Internationally renowned for salmon fishing, the river is bordered by rolling boreal terrain sculpted by the glaciers of a bygone era. This excursion by rail provides a perfect occasion to discover the traditional lifestyle and practices of the Innu community, including medicine, crafts and food preparation. During a visit to a traditional village, visitors enjoy a first-hand initiation into Innu traditions.
- Shaputuan Museum for a telling insight into traditional Innu culture.
At the Port of Saguenay, excursions include as follows:
- Mashteuiatsh Amerindian Museum: Guardian of the living memory of a people, the museum lends a voice to the indigenous nations of North America who also have a proud history to share.
At the Port of Havre-Saint-Pierrre:
- Whale-watching against an Innu backdrop: Learn more about marine mammals at the Interpretive Centre of the Mingan Islands Research Station. On your way, discover the ways of the Innu of Ekuanitshit who have long expressed themselves through a mix of art, culture and tradition.
Drawing inspiration from the long houses and elements of lifestyle of the local Innu, a new cultural centre is to be built at Ekuanitshit. This cultural centre is intended as a place where visitors to the Mingan shore can come and share in the daily experience of the local Innu.
Discovering the Huron nation at Québec
Originally from the area around the Great Lakes, the Huron-Wendat settled in the area around Québec in 1650. Their name, given to them by early European settlers, refers to their headdress whereas Wendat means ‘island people' and refers back to their Great Lakes origins. Firmly established just outside Québec, the some 3000 Huron-Wendat are adamant about developing in tandem with modern life while retaining their traditions and sharing them with visitors. A new First Nations hotel/museum was opened in 2008. This novel facility showcases Huron values while honouring tribal memories. Visitors will be enchanted by their hospitality and the genuineness of the surroundings, a unique location where it is also possible to sample traditional First Nations fare. A must see on any itinerary which includes a stop at the Port of Québec.
When stopping in at the Port of Saguenay, be certain to visit Site de la Nouvelle-France and enjoy the opportunity to immerse yourself in Huron-Wendat culture. The venue is a reconstruction of a 17th century community in New France with period buildings and colourful figures to guide you about. A visit to a Huron village will provide visitors with privileged insight into a blend of early French and Amerindian culture.
Encounter with the Mi’kmaq
A stopover at Gaspé is ideal for making contact with Québec’s Mi’kmaq community. Numbering some 5000 individuals in all, the Mi’kmaq were the first native people to come face to face with European explorers at the mouth of the St Lawrence River. Skilled fishermen and navigators, they proved particularly helpful to the European newcomers. Today, the Mi’kmaq are partners in the drive to develop tourism in the region and are present in areas around Gaspé and the Bay of Chaleur. Upon visiting the different venues, tourists will readily appreciate their attachment to tradition, the importance of honouring ancestral sites and their skills as salmon fishers. The Mi’kmaq of the Gaspé region help perpetuate the memory of their nation through crafts such as basket making—for which they use a combination of sweet grass and the wood of the ash tree, garments made from animal skins and others adorned with pearls.
Excursions available from Gaspé include:
- Mi’kmaq Interpretative Centre of Gespeg where visitors will step back into the 17th century lives of the first Gaspesians.
First Nations art, tradition and culture are part and parcel of Québec’s singular charm, and are just one of the many reasons to choose a cruise on the St.Lawrence!