Aboriginal Adventures Part 5: Storytelling with Yolande in the Wendake Longhouse
I looked up over my breakfast and pondered the stuffed lynx staring glassy-eyed into the distance as I spooned up my yoghurt. I thoughtfully licked my spoon and turned my head a little and spotted a stuffed owl. The clink of china and babble of slow morning conversation mixed with a CD of rhythmic chants and tribal songs of the Huron Wendat people. Welcome to breakfast time at the Hôtel-Musée Premières Nations. Just 15 minutes drive from Quebec City, the Wendake reserve houses a museum and longhouse which has bought the culture of the Huron Wendat nation into an accessible tourist destination with a first class hotel and restaurant.
The hotel bristles with modern must-haves such as ultra-high thread count linens and free wifi, then mixes in First Nations touches like dreamcatchers on the wall and moose print lampshades made from stretched and stitched hide. Place your squeamish ‘Uurgh, it’s a dead animal’ thoughts aside and remember you’re in their world now. Yes, there is an animal pelt on the bed– and another decorating the chair– snuggle up and be grateful for their sacrifice and the warmth that they give, know that their death was not taken lightly and was done with respect.
A small spa and gift shop add to the attractions, but for me, it’s worth considering making time during a trip to Quebec City just to come for dinner. The restaurant here, La Traite, is top notch, with local and traditional foods such as venison and melt-in-the-mouth elk given a delicious modern twist. In wintertime you can shoot ice glasses of Ungava gin (made with botanics harvested by the First Nations in northern Quebec) before tossing them into the frozen river and making a wish.
The museum part of the hotel, truthfully, is a little more stuffy than I’d wished for, with panels of information and exhibits behind glass. The Huron Wendat world came alive for me when I visited the newly-built traditional Longhouse at night for a storytelling session with Yolande Okia Picard. A common misconception is that ‘First Nations’ are as one, but that’s like imagining all Europeans are the same: the French are as different from the Icelandic as the Huron Wendat are from the Squamish nation, all First Nations, yes, but with different stories, myths and legends, and wholly different ways of living. I’m becoming familiar with the creation stories of various BC First Nations, but the stories of the Huron Wendat are totally different.
I lay curled up in the wooden longhouse, wrapped in an animal skin for warmth as the fire crackled. I thought about how people used to live together in these longhouses, families sleeping on sweet-smelling branches, listening to stories from the elders. I was entranced by Yolande’s sing-song voice as she sang to me and told me those same stories. Afterwards she brewed a pot of herbacious Labrador tea and we talked about our lives and shared, what was for me, a very special moment. This is a living culture, the Huron Wendat way of life, it’s something that is alive but needs protecting just as surely as you cup your hands around a flame to keep its light burning. Life on the reserve can be just as fragile. By visiting the hotel and museum you can learn more about them and help keep their culture alive.
My trip was made possible thanks to the CTC, Tourisme Autochtone Quebec, Tourism Quebec and the Hôtel-Musée Premières Nations, however as always – my words are 100% my own. More Information: Tourisme Autochtone Quebec Tourism Quebec Canadian Tourism Commission Hotel Musée Premiers Nations.