CONNE RIVER – (Miawpukek First Nation)

CONNE RIVER, a First Nations Reserve, is located in southern Newfoundland’s beautiful Coast of Bays. The residents of Conne River call themselves Miawpukek Mi’kmaq, the word Miawpukek meaning ‘Middle River’. Established as a Federal Indian Reserve in 1987, the first in the province, Miawpukek is a prosperous, vibrant community steeped in strong aboriginal cultures and identity.

To travel here you must first gas up before heading southbound on a two hour, uninterrupted, gun-barrel, paved road, Route 360 (the Bay d’Espoir Highway). If you forget, there is even a bright, yellow sign, your last warning to check the fuel gauge lest you find yourself on the roadside, out of gas and waiting for a good samaritan to pass by.

MIAWPUKEK WALKING TRAIL – An easy-rated trail, less than 2 kms, that branches off in multiple directions, re-connects, and leads to the river. It is a well maintained, soft-bedded trail with tall trees and lush with ferns. The river water was noticeably lower compared to our last trip here in July 2018.

GLENN JOHN ARTS AND CRAFT CENTRE – This is a must-see place to visit in Conne River. The centre employs its residents and as you shop you can observe local artists, in an adjacent room, crafting products out of regionally sourced materials such as antler, birch bark, bone, hide, leather and fur. The store exhibits a wide variety of skillfully made artwork, all available for purchase, including wall art, paintings, moccasins, dolls, canoes, purses, jewelry, dream catchers and more. The prices are amazing and the staff are welcoming and friendly. Having visited Conne River and this store in 2018, and regretting not buying a dream catcher, I wasn’t going to make that mistake again and, upon learning that the little native dolls were for sale (I assumed they were for display purposes only as they sat proudly in birchbark canoes), I knew I had to have one of those too. With my selections made, a lovely lady standing behind the counter (totalling my bill) asked me … “Do you know why we make the dolls without faces?” I replied “No” and she responded “If you put a face on her you are responsible for her soul.” This made me smile and also made my $15 doll now more valuable. Overjoyed with my tiny, hand-stitched doll, her little story and my other purchases (t-shirts, necklaces, dream catcher), I thanked the lady and said my farewell, until I come again.

JIPUJIJKUEI KUESPEM PARK – This RV and tent campground has a playground, walking trails and a pond. It is located 17 kms from the community of Conne River, on Route 360. The park provides firewood, at a small cost, and they will bring you a fire pit. Nestled in thick boreal forests, if you’re planning on camping here be sure to bring fly repellent and protective clothing as setting up a tent can literally be the end of you, with wasps and stouts big enough to carry you off to your death! During our stay here in 2018, we arrived on the last day of the Powwow. It was late in the evening and everyone had cleared out. Strangely, we were given a campsite in the grassy overflow section and we were the only ones there. Though the weather was great and it was a blue-bird evening, our inability to co-exist with the flies made our night outside short lived, and seeing a black bear didn’t help either. Our tent was erected in record time for fear of being eaten alive. The idea of sitting out and lighting a campfire was beyond our comprehension. So, with a can of bear spray each, we crawled into the tent and quietly said ‘goodnight’. Upon surviving the night, the next morning we were off, but not before having some fun photographing the biggest hares we had ever seen!

POWWOW – This annual celebration of the Miawpukek First Nation started in 1996. Held every July, the event promotes Mi’kmaq art and crafts, traditional dancing, sacred ceremonies, cultural demonstrations, drumming, chanting, traditional feast, food sampling, spiritual leaders and an overall honouring of their native culture, spiritualism and traditions.

CONNE RIVER BLACK BEAR – A friend put this little excursion into my head… “Next time you go to Conne River you have to go to the dump to see the black bears!” … and boy did we see bears! Six of them! Not knowing what to expect as we cautiously drove in the dirt road and rounded the hill, our first reaction was shock as we approached the mountains of garbage. Then we spotted them, the bears! Not one or two, six! … two males, a female and cubs (five directly in front of us, one to our side).

The male, to our immediate left, perched on the crest of a mound just sat there, visibly drained from the heat and humidity of the day, too tired to eat, too tired to sleep, too tired to care about us being there. It seemed they were indifferent to any human presence as 6-7 other vehicles came and routinely offloaded their garbage, as if they were taking their trash to the curb. I guess there is some truth to the old saying “don’t bite the hand that feeds ya!”

Within the safe confines of the car, my adrenaline on bust, I clicked away! And I knew in my mind if I didn’t see another thing in the next 3 days of our trip to the South Coast, my few minutes here with the bears was worth it. Yet with strained emotions, elation from witnessing the most remarkable, revered animal on this island and sadness seeing them reduced to consuming human trash, I put my camera away and left them to the only life they know.

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