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Portraits of local people: Mireille Gravel

Highlights on Mireille Gravel, Executive Director of the Nibiischii Corporation

 

Mireille thinks big.

For this woman, whose childhood was shared between Rimouski and several African countries, the territory of Eeyou Istchee Baie-James represents an infinite tourist potential. But not in any way!

For the biologist, conservation and protection of the territory are essential. Even more so, for an environment like the boreal forest.

While Eeyou Istchee Baie-James has been occupied for millennia by Cree families, it has remained largely untouched by commercial activity. And this impressive ecosystem must be preserved, protected, and celebrated.

Mireille arrived in Chibougamau in 2008 and she has never forgotten the feeling that struck her when she first saw this territory: the black spruce trees that seemed to hold all the wisdom of the North, the landscape cut by thousands of lakes and rivers... It was love at first sight!

This feeling never leaves her and serves as a driving force in everything she does.

Initially the executive director of FaunENord, Mireille and her team developed a variety of projects: educational and entrepreneurial projects, consulting services, research, development of non-timber forest products, and much more. For 10 years, she contributed to the development and sustainability of the territory within this dynamic and innovative non-profit organization.

One day, a job offer fell into her lap: the Nibiischii Corporation, a Cree organization from Mistissini, was looking for a manager for the lacs Albanel-Mistassini-and-Waconichi Wildlife Reserve. This manager would also have the mandate to accompany the community in the creation of a national park.

For Mireille, who had always wanted to return to the protected areas network, it was the perfect opportunity to make a dream come true! Without hesitation, she embarked on the adventure.

She is now in charge of the largest wildlife reserve in Quebec: the AMW reserve covers more than 16,000 square kilometres. There are more than 5,000 lakes! Her mandate is to complete the transfer of management, to upgrade the infrastructure, and to develop new products and services. Until 2017, the wildlife reserve was managed jointly by the Sépaq and Mistissini; it is now managed by the Nibiischii Corporation.

CREE CULTURE, AT THE HEART OF DEVELOPMENT

Mireille and her team do not lack ideas to make the wildlife reserve a truly special place. Here, they celebrate the living heritage. While maintaining this fishing paradise, they seek to prioritize Cree culture, ecotourism, and to distinguish themselves by offering unique accommodations. In this sens, they are working to diversify the product offer. Everyone will find something for their liking, even those who do not fish!

Beyond cultural tourism, the goal is to showcase the Cree way of life, to share it, and to discover it.

“When people come to Eeyou Istchee, they want to experience Cree culture, they want to see, feel, and learn as much as possible about this vibrant culture, language, and traditional way of life.”

On-site craft workshops with Cree artists and artisans are now available.

A network of diversified and safe canoe routes is being developed. With or without a guide, these canoe-camping trips will be the perfect opportunity for an enriching cultural encounter.

A mobile interpretation center will be set up next season to offer workshops on the flora and fauna which are an integral part of Cree culture. This center will also be the ideal place to promote the arts and crafts of Eeyou Istchee.

A number of other activities are being prepared and should be offered in the coming months. The director and her team have some nice surprises in store for us!

Even the signage throughout the wildlife reserve is being replaced to integrate the Cree toponymy of the sites and lakes. In addition to highlighting this rich toponymy, this change is intended to promote awareness, understanding, and respect for the traditional Cree territory, with its traplines occupied by families. 

ACCOMMODATION

From prospectors' camps to cottages and campgrounds, all are excellent options to enjoy the different sectors of the wildlife reserve!

But Mireille's team did not stop there: Coolboxes were added last summer, some of which are even floating! Very comfortable, well insulated, and operating autonomously anywhere on the territory, these mini houses are suitable for couples, small groups of friends as well as families.

A smart camp prototype was specially designed for the Nibiischii Corporation. This mini-camper, nicknamed Nicikw - the otter - can accommodate two people and be attached behind a snowmobile. It can be moved almost anywhere to enjoy the greatness of the wildlife reserve!

 

ENJOY THE WILDLIFE RESERVE 365 DAYS A YEAR

One of the biggest project Mireille and her team are working on is the winterization of a sector of the wildlife reserve.

The chalets in the Waconichi sector will be renovated so that they can be used all year round. "All-inclusive" packages were even tested this winter, including a variety of activities : snowshoeing, fatbike, paraskiing, snowmobiling, cultural stopover, beading workshop... During the next few months, the final steps of the project will be completed so that, as of next winter, the reserve will be accessible during the cold season.

By winterizing the facilities, a whole range of other development possibilities are added: business tourism, wellness tourism, culinary tourism, various retreats, art and cultural symposiums, and exhibitions, an outdoor teaching site, and much more. 

 

"We want to make the wildlife reserve a pivotal site for the region, a site whose infrastructure could be beneficial to other entrepreneurs and developers of tourism projects."

THE NIBIISCHII NATIONAL PARK: The place where great rivers are born

In parallel, Mireille is also working on the creation of the Nibiischii National Park on behalf of the Cree Nation of Mistissini with the Ministry of Forests, Wildlife, and Parks.

This project will protect nearly 12,000 square kilometers of territory, from the great lac Mistassini to the splendid Otish Mountains. The major orientations of the park project are numerous, including the conservation of Nibiischii - the hydrological hub of Quebec, as well as the protection of woodland caribou. However, this unique future park aims above all at the protection and the development of the living heritage, the Cree way of life - Eenou pimaatisiiwin.

"A national park is about taking a representative sample of a region and putting it under a glass bubble to preserve its beauty and integrity in perpetuity. It is a place where living heritage lives on and is celebrated. But this bubble must have a door that is always wide open to welcome people from here and elsewhere, to let them discover and live exceptional nature-culture experiences."

The national park is expected to come into being in 2022. It will recover nearly 4,000 square kilometers that are currently under the management of the wildlife reserve, including the sectors of lac Albanel and baie Pénicouane.

But regular visitors have nothing to fear. The activities and services currently offered will remain.

 

Curious about the fishing experience? Read Hooké's story at the lacs Albanel-Mistassini-and-Waconichi Wildlife Reserve.