Designed and operated by the MoCreebec people, Cree Village Ecolodge is the self-proclaimed first indigenous-owned eco lodge in the northern hemisphere. Built at the edge of the Arctic, this 21st century facility is one of the most ecologically friendly inns in Canada.
There is no standard air-conditioning system here, but instead, highly efficient, low-noise ceiling fans. The walls are cedar or ceramic tile, and low- emission paint was used on all painted surfaces. Four of the lodge’s bathrooms feature composting toilets.
Modeled on a traditional Cree shabatwon, meaning “long teepee with doors at each end,” the grand Cree Village Ecolodge overlooks the picturesque Moose River.
We are headed on a day tour up the frozen Moose River and then overland to a Cree camp on another ice-covered river somewhere in this vast northern land.
We fly along the frozen riverbed, a wide swath of white rimmed by dark spikes of spruce. Then we swerve off the trail and head inland, bumping and jolting along a winding path through the seemingly endless, uninhabited forest. The trail winds and curves, willows whip against us, and the shadows of trees and brush make patterns in the snow.
Byron and I talk about school, the land that he loves, his family, the reserve, the problems of youth, and his ambition to be a bush pilot. He points to a beaver dam, a snow-covered mound of sticks and mud emerging from a bed of frozen cattails.
We arrive at a lonely gray wooden cabin that will come alive in the spring goose hunt. During this time, schools close and whole families take to the bush to stock up for the summer season. But today the forest is silent, the scrunch of our boots the only sound. Within a few minutes, Daryl has split wood and tosses it into the pot-bellied stove.
With practiced efficiency, he adds sliced potatoes to chunks of moose meat in a big cast-iron frying pan. When everything is sizzling hot, he serves it up with hunks of bannock bread and we eat outside on the cabin steps. The moose meat is tough and hard to chew. “It was a big old moose,” laughs Daryl.
The wind comes up and it’s getting colder. The whiteness, emptiness and silence are overwhelming. I imagine how early explorer Henry Hudson felt locked into this ice-covered land for the duration of a 17th century winter. We are lucky to be heading back to the warmth of Cree Village Ecolodge.
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