Eeyou Istchee tourist attractions win big

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ACCI.1The Cree tourism industry is winning recognition as three organizations added trophies to their award shelves at the Tourisme Baie-James and Eeyou Istchee Tourism regional Grands Prix du Tourisme Québécois 2014. The Aanischaaukamikw Cree Cultural Institute in Oujé-Bougoumou, the Mistissini Lodge and Wemindji’s Maquatua Inn were all big winners at a March 27 gala in Lebel-sur-Quévillon.

According to Gaston Cooper from the Aanischaaukamikw Cree Cultural Institute, the ACCI won the Gold Medal Tourism Attraction award for an attraction with less than 25,000 visitors per year, an impressive feat as this was the institute’s first year of operation.

“We got this award because Tourisme Baie-James and Eeyou Istchee Tourism want to recognize some of the companies in the region for their efforts in attracting tourism,” said Cooper.

He said the Cree Outfitting and Tourism Association (COTA) nominated the institute and submitted a video message on the establishment and its work.

Cooper credited the award to the institute’s hard work in bringing newcomers to Oujé-Bougoumou to visit the Aanischaaukamikw, something he said can be a “hard sell” because it is in a remote Cree community.

“We had a lot of visitors, both Native and non-Native, who came to Oujé-Bougoumou to visit our museum,” Cooper observed. “We have just started and really didn’t have much money as a non-profit organization for marketing. Not many do. Instead we had to rely a lot on social media and the media to do stories on us.”

According to Cooper, visitors love the ACCI’s collection of cultural antiquities, archeological finds and items that they were able to repatriate from other museums. In their visitor’s log, visitors gushed about how the museum is an ambassador of Cree culture.

While many ACCI visitors over the last year have been Crees, there have also been a number of non-Natives who have walked through the institute’s front doors, some hailing from Lac Saint-Jean, Quebec City, Montreal and Ottawa.

Cooper said what the ACCI did was pitch those who were already in the region for other purposes such as visiting an outfitting camp, but that this proved fruitful.

“It was like an added bonus for these people to come and visit the museum. This is something that we focused on and accomplished as we started getting more and more visitors and then repeat visitors,” said Cooper.

Mistissini Lodge employee Patrick Forward was a winner in the human resources category. His colleague Gilbert Baribeau won the gold prize for a tourism employee while Forward pocketed the gold prize for tourism supervisor.

COTA also nominated the two for the awards ceremony.

“They said that they (COTA) felt that we would best represent this award. We didn’t really do anything on our end except offer great service to our clients and I guess that this was noticed. We are really proud of these awards. Though they are for individuals, everything we do here is as a team and when we win, we all win,” said Forward.

At the awards ceremony, the Maquatua Inn received the gold prize for a hotel with fewer than 40 units.

Tourisme Baie-James and Eeyou Istchee Tourism will be entering their winners for a regional prize but the winners for that event won’t be announced until May at a gala in Laval.

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