Winter with the Cree
Immerse in the Indigenous Culture of Northern Quebec
February 16 - 25 2024
($500 deposit due upon registration)
10 participants max
ravel north to Eeyou Istchee, The People’s Land, for 10 days immersed in the lands and livelihoods of the James Bay Cree, our First Nations neighbors in northern Quebec.
We will explore the boreal forest landscape - tall black spruce trees; glacial lakes and rivers; wide expanses of snow, sky, forest, and bog; thriving populations of caribou, moose, bear, and beaver - through the lens of the Indigenous people who live there. We will seek to understand land and natural resource use for this hunting and fishing First Nation; explore cultural, resource-based, and political tensions and issues; and experience the everyday life of a Cree winter camp. We’ll discover the ways our lives, as New Englanders, are linked to the lives and lands of the James Bay Cree, and will, undoubtedly, come away looking at the boreal forest, and thinking about our connection to the natural world, in a whole new light.
Led by NBNC Executive Director Naomi Heindel, and Blue Hill Heritage Trust Executive Director Hans Carlson, this trip will focus on important environmental and cultural issues mainly through hands-on “bush” living. Naomi and Hans have both traveled, researched, and worked extensively in James Bay and have collaborated on projects and guided trips together for over a decade. Our Cree hosts, Anna and David Bosum, and their warm extended family, run Nuuhchimi Wiinuu Cree Culture Tours based in Ouje Bougoumou, Quebec, and are highly regarded guides and community elders. Possible activities while we’re with the Bosums include setting rabbit snares, trapping beaver, setting an under-ice fish net, collecting fir boughs for tent floors, making snowshoes and other tools, tanning moosehide, baking and cooking, preparing fish and meat, sewing, and sharing songs and stories over tea and bannock. We will camp in comfortable, canvas wall tents heated by woodstoves; travel by snowshoe and moccasin; eat a wide range of boreal game, from birds to mammals to fish; and experience Indigenous stewardship and connection to the land.
This is not your typical North Branch Nature Center trip!
We want to be sure that everyone with us has a good understanding of what this trip will entail and how it differs from other NBNC Adventures Afar.
This trip is not for the faint of heart! This trip involves long van rides, sleeping in canvas wall tents, winter weather of all sorts, winter camp chores, and snowshoeing. The trip also involves up-close exposure to an authentic, thriving hunting, fishing, and trapping culture. We will be around - and will eat - wild game, likely to include moose, bear, beaver, goose, fish, rabbit, and more.
We will likely also help with the hunting, trapping, netting, snaring, and processing of these, and potentially other, northern woodland animals. Participants should be ready for, and open to, understanding and participating in these aspects of Cree culture and land stewardship.
Please read the information below to get a sense of whether this trip is right for you.
Physical Expectations: Participants should be able to hike on moderate terrain up to 2 miles per day, and should be ready for northern winter conditions - wet, cold (even sub-zero), windy, snowy, icy, or a mix. That said, late February in James Bay can also be warm and very sunny, with temperatures creeping into the high 30s as the days lengthen and spring returns. Whatever the weather, we will always have warm, dry, safe accommodations to retreat to after our adventures. Participants can expect several shorter outdoor excursions every day, most by snowshoe, with variable snow conditions.
Transportation: We will travel in NBNC’s comfortable 15-passenger van.
Flow of the Day: You can expect some early mornings and longer days on our travel days, as James Bay is almost 600 miles north of Montpelier - a long haul! We will break the drive into two days in both directions, stopping along the way for meals and sights. While we’re with our Cree hosts, days will slow down and will focus around shared meals, outdoor activities, and snowshoe excursions to see the boreal forest landscape and wildlife. Generally, there will be time for an afternoon rest between activities. The Cree pace and sense of time can sometimes feel slow in comparison to our face-paced lives; there will be plenty of time to enjoy the scenery, linger over a cup of tea, tell stories, and admire sunsets over frozen lakes together.
Clothing and Equipment: This trip is purposefully designed for the later half of the Quebec winter, when snow, ice, and sun are all plentiful. Be prepared for a full winter experience, and also bring a couple sets of “town clothes.” Please plan to dress modestly when we’re with our Cree hosts. Here is a detailed list of the clothing and equipment that we recommend. Please reach out ahead of time if you are uncertain about any of these items or unable to acquire them.
- Your passport!
- Insulated snow boots with removable liners.
- Warm wool socks (at least 3 pairs).
- Insulated, waterproof gloves and/or mittens.
- Scarf or neck warmer.
- Warm hat that covers the ears.
- Snow pants (insulated, or soft shell, or hard shell options will all work).
- Wool or polyester long underwear, top and bottom.
- Warm indoor pants (wool or fleece).
- Winter parka or warm insulated coat.
- Several layerable wool or fleece top layers of different thicknesses, such as a fleece jacket and vest, or a light fleece and a heavy fleece.
- Shell jacket (uninsulated, like a rain coat or Gore Tex jacket).
- Winter rated sleeping bag (ideally rated to -20 degrees).
- Sleeping pad(s) (the warmest option is to bring 2 pads: a foam pad and an inflatable air mattress like a ThermaRest).
- Camp shoes (sneakers, slippers, or down booties all work well; you might even bring slippers AND sneakers for full comfort).
- Extra base layers.
- Town clothes - 2-3 pairs of clothes for travel and village days.
- Sunglasses and/or goggles.
- Toiletries, including non-electric options for the camping portion.
- Headlamp or flashlight with spare batteries.
- 2 1-liter capacity water bottles.
- Small day pack.
- Optional items include:
- Binoculars, camera.
- Hand and toe warmers.
- Baseball cap (or other hat with a brim for sun protection).
- Crazy Creek or other small camp chair.
- Mug or thermos.
- Handkerchief or washcloth for the camping portion.
- Boreal forest or northern woodland field guides.
Accommodations: Our accommodations will vary significantly! Please read carefully to make sure you are up for this aspect of our adventure.
We’ll start with a night at a Montpelier hotel (or in your own beds, if you are local). Our second night will be en route to James Bay, at a roadside hotel on the shores of Lac St. Jean. Once we reach the Cree Community of Ouje Bougoumou, we will spend two nights in the Capissisit Lodge. This is the hotel run by the Ouje Bougoumou Cree Community and is a fully equipped modern hotel with en-suite bathrooms and an onsite restaurant where we will eat. From there, we move into the bush, joining our hosts Anna and David Bosum at their remote winter camp. We will be camping for four nights, using sleeping bags, sleeping pads, canvas wall-tents heated by wood stoves, and an outhouse. You can expect to share a tent with 1-3 other people in our group. On our final night, we’ll celebrate with a final dinner in Quebec City and stay at a hotel in the city.
Food: Our food will come from a combination of places: restaurants, food that we bring with us, and traditional bush food prepared by our Cree guides. Restaurant food will vary from small Quebec diners, to the onsite restaurant run by the Cree Community of Ouje Bougoumou, to a nice, celebratory dinner in Quebec City. Food that we bring with us will include packed lunches and snacks for our travel days, plus staples like soup, cheese, and fruit to supplement our camping meals. Traditional Cree food highlights include homemade bannock (fry bread), homemade blueberry jam, roasted goose, and walleye, among a lot of other northern forest game. If you are interested in participating and you are vegetarian, vegan, or have other dietary restrictions, please reach out ahead of time so we can make accommodations.
Naomi Heindel is the Executive Director of North Branch Nature Center and has been traveling in the James Bay region for two decades as a canoeist, trip leader, researcher, and guide. After first experiencing the boreal forest on a canoe trip at age 15, she caught the northern bug and has returned many times, including on field research trips in college and graduate school. She has studied how resource development - particularly logging - has influenced the land and lives of the James Bay Cree and has written several articles on these issues. She also has two decades of experience as a wilderness trip leader, including leading extended winter camping, canoeing, and backpacking trips. When not in the NBNC office, Naomi enjoys exploring the woods and waters of central Vermont with her husband and two young children.
Hans Carlson is the Executive Director of Blue Hill Heritage Trust and has been a frequent visitor, traveler, and researcher in the James Bay region since the early 1980s. A forest and environmental historian, Hans has taught at several universities and is the author of two books and several articles about the James Bay Cree and Indigenous land use history. He has traveled extensively throughout northern Quebec on research trips, leading wilderness canoe expeditions, and on experiential learning trips for undergraduates and adults. His professional focus on the history and conservation of northeastern working landscapes is complemented by personal interests in all types of outdoor pursuits, woodworking, and boat building.
We will also be hosted by James Bay Cree guides David and Anna Bosum, who operate their own cultural tourism outfit and are respected guides and elders in their community.
- All lodging and meals, starting with dinner on Day 1 and ending with lunch on Day 10.
- Two expert staff guides, who know the region and the Cree communities well.
- Two bilingual local Cree guides.
- Transportation to, from, and within Quebec in our 15-passenger van.
- Pre-departure orientation session virtually or at NBNC before the trip.
- Handmade Cree moccasins.
- A selection of resources to read or watch ahead of time, for those who choose.
What’s not included
- Incidentals on travel or town days.
Ready to go north? Questions? Please contact [email protected].
- A $500 deposit is required to reserve your space on the trip.
- 50% of the trip balance will be due 6 months before the departure date.
- The remaining trip balance will be due 3 months before the departure date.
All payments can be made via check to: North Branch Nature Center, 713 Elm Street, Montpelier, VT 05602
We understand that incidents and emergencies arise that may force you to cancel your trip. However, NBNC invests considerable time and, in many cases, non-refundable payments to lodges and local contractors to secure our rooms and programming. NBNC aims to be as flexible as possible in our refund policy, but a full refund of your payments may not be possible after the dates indicated. All cancellations must be made via email to NBNC.
Cancellation more than 180 days before the trip: Full refund of all payments.
Cancellation 90-180 days before the trip: Refund of any payments minus the $500 deposit. If your space is filled by another traveler, we will also refund your deposit.
Cancellation 30-90 days before the trip: No refund guaranteed. If your space is filled by another traveler, we will provide a full refund minus the $500 deposit.
Cancellation less than 30 days before the trip: No refunds guaranteed.
Note: itineraries are always subject to change based on weather and other events and opportunities that arise during the journey.
(Click each daily tab below to expand)
Participants arrive for a welcome, a round of introductions, and a gear shakedown at North Branch Nature Center. We’ll start at 3pm and have dinner together. Out-of-town guests will stay at a Montpelier hotel (transportation provided); local guests can stay at home (and we’ll reduce your trip price accordingly).
We will orient ourselves to our travel companions, revisit the trip itinerary, look at maps of where we’re headed, and prepare ourselves for immersion into an entirely different landscape and culture. We’ll touch on the environmental and cultural topics we’re most likely to explore on the trip, including hunting and fishing, Indigenous land and wildlife stewardship, resource development in Quebec and New England, and the cultural and ecological history of our First Nation neighbors to the north.
After an early morning start, we’ll drive to the Lac St. Jean area, about a 7 hour drive from Montpelier. We’ll eat out at a roadside restaurant and stay at a local hotel.
The drive north is itself an important part of the trip, as we pass into Canada, through the rugged and remote Laurentide Mountains, and into the fertile farming valleys surrounding Lac St. Jean. As the landscape changes, we’ll have opportunities to reflect on our connections to northern Quebec through shared history and natural resources.
In the morning, we’ll visit the Mashteuiatsh Museum and explore their exhibits on the arts and cultures of Canada’s First Nations. From there, we’ll travel about 3 hours north for a private tour of the Barrette Chapais sawmill, one of the operations that harvests and processes lumber from Cree forests. In the late afternoon, we’ll finish the drive to Ouje Bougoumou and check into our rooms at Capissisit Lodge, the hotel run by the Ouje Bougoumou Cree Community.
This will be our first real dive into northern Quebec’s landscape and communities, including those managed by First Nations and those managed by non-native Quebecois. By the time we reach Ouje Bougoumou, our minds will be full of the differences that 12 hours in the van can bring - - in landscape, language, wildlife, livelihood, culture, history, economy, and more!
Today we’ll explore the Cree Community of Ouje Bougoumou. We’ll tour the community, visit the incredible Aanischaaukamikw Cree Cultural Institute, meet Norman Wapachee, Deputy Grand Chief of the Grand Council of the Crees, and meet our guides Anna and David Bosum for a short snowshoe and dinner. We’ll stay again at Capissisit Lodge.
A day to settle into our immersion in James Bay, we’ll use this day to orient ourselves and prepare for our upcoming camping trip. Ouje Bougoumou is a beautifully built town with a powerful history and an ongoing reality deeply connected to the woods and waters that surround it.
After final preparations, we’ll travel a short distance to Nuuhchimi Wiinuu Cree Culture Tours’ remote winter camp, where we’ll stay with the Bosum family for the next four nights. We’ll sleep in cozy canvas wall tents heated by woodstoves, putting our sleeping pads and sleeping bags down on floors lined with fir boughs and bear skins. We’ll explore the boreal forest by foot and snowshoe from there, following the natural rhythms of winter life in the bush.
These days are our true immersion experience, in which we’ll see firsthand how the James Bay Cree rely on and steward the natural world. We’ll watch, learn, participate, try our hand at any number of new skills, taste new foods straight from the boreal forest, and connect with the natural world in a whole new way. Along the way, we’ll discuss - with our knowledgeable Cree hosts - the pressures, changes, and conflicts facing the James Bay Cree today when it comes to their ongoing survival, and the survival of their lands.
After a final breakfast at camp, we’ll depart early for our drive to Quebec City, about six hours south. When we arrive, we’ll have time to explore the city before meeting up for a celebratory dinner. We’ll spend the night at a hotel in the city.
Reentry from a cultural immersion like this is an important part of the trip. We’ll have a chance to share reflections, highlights, questions, gratitude, and memories. Plus, Quebec City is fun and offers an amazing contrast to our winter bush camp!
On our final day, we’ll drive the remaining 4.5 hours back to Montpelier. After a final closing, participants will depart for home.