Nitassinan and Innu Aitun
Nitassinan (ancestral territory) is fundamental in Innu culture. It is the land for traditional activities, where time-honoured knowledge and know-how are passed on and where people gather to share their beliefs and hold ceremonies and spiritual traditions so as their language and values carry on. In short, the land is where all the components of Innu culture, referred to as “Innu Aitun”, are passed on (Rousseau, 2019). The Innu community of Pessamit has inhabited and lived off this traditional territory for thousands of years, as evidenced by the presence of historical sites of interest like portage trails, burial sites, gathering sites and encampments in the Uapishka Station sector.
The Innu people believe that the territory has no specific boundaries, but the Nitassinan of Pessamit is generally known to cover the north shore of the St. Lawrence River, between the Portneuf and Trinité Rivers and extend to the edges of the backcountry, beyond the Uapishka and Otish Mountains. In this vast territory, Pessamit hunters could encounter others Innu from Lac-Saint-Jean and Schefferville or even Cree people from the James Bay area. In the Innu language, Nitassinan means “our land.”
Eye of Quebec
With a diameter of about 100 kilometres, the Manicouagan Astrobleme is the fourth largest crater in the world. It was formed about 214 million years ago when a meteorite eight kilometres in diameter impacted the Earth. At its heart stands René-Levasseur Island. Its subsoil contains a large quantity of impactite, which is a rocky amalgam made homogeneous with heat from the meteorite impact. Due to its genesis, the area is home to an exceptional geological site renowned throughout Quebec, namely Manicouagan-Est. Fossil sites are also to be found near the Uapishka Station.
In 1968, the filling of the Daniel-Johnson dam located 40 km to the south caused the crater to flood and René-Levasseur Island to emerge. The Manicouagan Astrobleme is now one of the largest hydroelectric reservoirs in the world. Its distinctive ring shape, visible from space, has earned it the nickname “Eye of Quebec.”
UNESCO Biosphere Reserve
As tangible acknowledgment of the territory's exceptional natural and cultural heritage, in 2007, UNESCO designated the territory located along the St. Lawrence River, from the Innu community of Pessamit to Baie-Trinité as a biosphere reserve, covering an immense backcountry that includes the Uapishka (Groulx) Mountains and the Manicouagan Astrobleme to the north. The Uapishka Station is located at the very heart of the reserve and endeavours to achieve its objectives and, more broadly, to contribute to the development of the entire region.
The Uapishka Station is located within the Uapishka Biodiversity Reserve. The reserve covers about one third of the Uapishka (Groulx) mountain range, as one of the road-accessible sites featuring the largest area of arctic-alpine tundra. The ecosystem is home to a diverse and rare flora at this latitude deep into the boreal forest.
René-Levasseur Island is another major attraction of the territory: the island is home to the largest ecological reserve in Quebec, the Louis-Babel Ecological Reserve and the meteorite biodiversity reserve. According to Tourisme Québec, protected natural areas are more likely than other types of territories to offer high-quality and competitive ecotourism products due to their often spectacular ecological or aesthetic features. As relatively undisturbed natural environments, these territories are also sustainable safeguarded by legal or regulatory statutes.
Flora and fauna
The landscape is home to fragile ecosystems, including mountain white spruce with lichen and patches of arctic-alpine tundra. A number of rare calcicole species associated with rich, less acidic soils have recently been identified in the Uapishka (Groulx) Mountains. The rare or endangered plant species found in the mountain range include alpine lady fern, glacier sedge, orange agoseris, red bearberry, clustered lady's mantle and marsh earwort.
Wildlife species that are culturally significant for the Pessamit Innu community and the practice of Innu Aitun are also found in these mountains, such as woodland caribou, moose, black bear, beaver, snowshoe hare, grouse, marten and many species of ducks and migratory birds.
The Uapishka (Groulx) Mountains dominate the entire backcountry of the Manicouagan territory, with some 30 peaks exceeding 1,000 metres in elevation. The mountain range is the sixth highest in terms of altitude and the third largest alpine area in Quebec. The Uapishka (Groulx) Mountains have an exceptional potential for education, in addition to being among the few mountain ranges to have remained a wilderness area in Quebec. Uapishka means “rocky summit always covered in snow.”