They came, they saw, they schmoozed, and at the end of the day, the town of Amos and the Cree Nation were much closer to becoming partners in the development of Northern Quebec’s tourism industry.

Hosted by the Secretariat to the Cree Nation Abitibi-Temiscamingue Economic Alliance, the tourism conference was attended by more than 100 people from Cree, Algonquin, Anglophone and Francophone communities at the Hotel des Eskers May 25-26.

The Cree Outfitting and Tourism Association (COTA) and the Abitibi-Temiscamingue Regional Tourism Association also played a part.

Throughout the day and evening, many guest speakers emphasized the importance of working together and prospering through tourism in the area. By the amount of networking and respect between both sides, the future of tourism of all kinds looks bright for northern Quebec.

COTA, which was created through the 1975 James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement, is only now beginning to come into its own. Cree tourism currently makes up just 0.1 per cent of the Canadian tourism sector.

But that is changing according to Norman Gull, the President of COTA. “Last year our website received 12,000 hits. This year, we received 230,000 hits during the same period.” Publicity, trade shows in the U.S and Canada, and word of mouth all helped to increase interest in Cree tourism.

Gull said conferences like the one held in Amos serve a greater purpose. “There’s always been a desire to have joint ventures between the Cree and non-Cree, especially in the areas of fishing, hunting, eco-tourism and adventure tourism,” he noted. “The difficulty has been that the groups don’t understand each other. They don’t have a history of working together. That’s what we’re trying to facilitate, so that they can work together for their mutual benefit and for the benefit of their people and region and Eeyou Istchee.”

He added that benefits flow from networking and establishing contacts. “It’s hard to put a market value on something like that. The important thing for a conference such as this one is that the doors are opening for both sides.”

Jocelyn Carrier, President of the Abitibi-Temiscamingue Regional Tourism Association, told a story about one of his Algonquin friends. “A guy from Pikogan said to me, ‘We don’t have anything to learn from you guys as far as tourism. We welcomed you here in Amos 95 years ago and you guys never left.’”

The tourism conference also included a rare opportunity to see one of Eeyou Istchee’s finest painters plying his trade in front of a live audience. In three hours, Tim Whiskeychan took an empty canvas and transformed it into a beautiful landscape. He even left out the geese to reflect what has been a bad goose break for many in Eeyou Istchee.

Some of the vendors included COTA, Cree Human Resources, Abitibi Tourism, Attikamek artists and a table from Beesum Communications.

Jean-Pierre Frigon, who is a member of the Chamber of Commerce and also owns the Amosphere Hotel, thought it was about time that the Crees and Amos started working together.

“It’s something very important because it gives us a chance to speak to all the Cree people up north based on a common project which is tourism,” Frigon said. “We’re looking to work together and share the tourism together. We’re going to see the result in two to five years. The tourism up north is just starting and is very young, so we have to work very hard to be a good partner with the Crees.”

Frigon also told the Nation that the town of Amos hired Kenneth Gilpin as the Cree liaison agent last year. The idea is to try to work with him on a cultural basis to learn what the Cree culture is and how to share it with the tourists who visit the region. He’s also there to foster better relations between Amos and their Native neighbours.

Grand Chief “led Moses spoke at the event to encourage amicable relations between the many Nations that live in and around Amos. He was happy with the number of people who participated.

“It’s a very good turnout; the Cree participation is certainly noticeable here,” Moses said. “There’s a lot of interest on the part of the Crees to learn more about tourism and to share their experiences. When we have a conference like this it generates business, it generates ideas, people network and there are spin-offs that we may not know right away but we’ll know later on. The territory is wide open for the Cree people to do whatever kind of tourism they want that would be profitable for them.”

Norman Gull cited a great example of what can happen when people of different colour work together.

“There are some joint ventures such as Osprey in Mistissini that work very well. A local entrepreneur hooked up with someone from Montreal and it’s been mutually beneficial. The Montreal operator brought in his expertise in terms of marketing and the Cree operator brought in his expertise as far as the land, the culture and the people. So that’s a great example. People see that it’s a real success story.”