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Business ᐊᐱᒥᐱᐦᑖᑭᓂᐧᐃᒡ ᐋᐱᑎᓰᐧᐃᓐ

Eeyou Istchee tourism industry hopes to relaunch after collapse

BY Lachlan Madill Jun 18, 2020

On June 8, Eeyou Istchee began the process of deconfinement. Health and safety measures which have been in place for the past three months are slowly being lifted.

The Covid-19 situation has improved in Eeyou Istchee and no new cases have been reported since May 28. Overall, there have been 10 confirmed cases in the territory. The Cree Board of Health (CBH) has tested 738 people and according to their latest update, they have the capability to test up to 50 people a week.

With the improvement in the neighbouring health regions, self-isolation for 14 days is no longer required when returning to Eeyou Istchee from the Abitibi-Témiscamingue health region 8 (which includes Rouyn-Noranda, Val-d’Or, Senneterre and Amos) and the Saguenay–Lac-Saint-Jean health region 2 (which includes Roberval, Saint-Félicien and Saguenay). These areas are no longer identified as high risk by the CBH. Travelers returning from the Nord-du-Québec health region 10 are also not required to self-isolate.

“The self-isolation requirement remains in place for those returning from any mine site, logging camp or Hydro camp,” stated CBH chairperson Bella Pettawabano in her June 9 update. “These camps are bringing in workers from high-risk areas such as Montreal and so anyone returning to the community after working at one of these places must self-isolate for 14 days to protect their family and community from Covid-19.”

Tourism in Eeyou Istchee has been hit by Covid-19. Robin McGinley, executive director of the Cree Outfitting and Tourism Association (COTA) and Eeyou Istchee Tourism (EIT), said that while she doesn’t have the exact dollar figure on how the pandemic has affected outfitters, she knows the impact has been huge.

As a regional tourism association, COTA and EIT are part of the Quebec Tourism Alliance. McGinley said that the current situation can be put into perspective by looking at the 2008-2009 economic crisis. “In the hotel industry, it took four years to get back to normal. For international visitors, they’re saying it will take two to four years before that market returns.”

McGinley said the tourism industry in Eeyou Istchee was experiencing an upswing before being hit by Covid. “The outfitters were doing well, we were more visible to the clients, and we started the travel agency. Things were moving forward, but now everything’s been put on pause.”

However, she said that the association is working with the Cree Board of Health to prepare for reopening. “We are trying to help tourism and businesses in our region implement the right sanitation measures so when businesses re-open they can follow the right guidelines.”

McGinley said the tourism industry will take time to recover. Keeping people safe, especially Elders, is the most important consideration. “If we work together, focus on sanitation measures and keep our communities safe, then when it’s time to re-open, we will be prepared to do so.”

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Lachlan Madill is a Saulteaux/Cree journalist from Treaty 4 territory in Saskatchewan. He has been working as a television, radio and web journalist the past 15 years. Originally from Regina he now lives in Montreal with his wife, daughter, dog and lizard.