A Guide’s Review of Nahanni: River of Forgiveness

Nahanni River of Forgiveness is a journey through a magnificent landscape. It's a search for forgiveness and reconciliation for what has happened to the people and to the land. It's about the spiritual power of nature to heal the soul and a tribute to the resilience and steadfastness of the Dene. The team at Nahanni River Adventures was fortunate to be a part of its creation and Joel was happy to share this thoughts when he caught a sneak peak a few months ago!

We have been fortunate to take part in many film productions; histories, narrative tales of the North and nature documentaries. In each of these formats of there exists one constant. Between the seeds of a movie production process and when you are finally able to sit down to take it all in it grows in your mind. Glimpses of footage in the evening and stories from the crew mingle in your mind to allow a narrative to develop and you eventually feel you know how things might look when the lights dim in a theatre…

Sitting down to view Nahanni: River of Forgiveness was no different. From the first reverberations of a moose hide drum, through shared moments of raw introspection the journey of a crew of Dene down the South Nahanni reminded all in attendance of the power of shared experience.was no different. From the first reverberations of a moose hide drum, through shared moments of raw introspection the journey of a crew of Dene down the South Nahanni reminded all in attendance of the power of shared experience.

The film bubbles with resurgent indigenous power. We witness the principled commitment of Lawrence Nayally to his culture, Marcelle Chollo’s processing of intergenerational trauma and Rochelle Yendo’s hope for the future is a privilege for all who watch River of Forgiveness. As the Kasha Gotine (Tulita Dene) crafted an eight metre craft from the gifts of the boreal of forest the genius of 30,000 years of connection to the land came alive.

The search for just the right trees, the days long process of turning a dozen moose hides into a boat hull and the carving of five meter oars from black spruce show us how comfortable modern river travel is.

Black spruce shaving left behind from the carving of the massive oars
Moose are a mainstay of both the Dene diet and boat construction

Of course many of the challenges of the process inevitably were left on the cutting room floor.

An oar that didn’t make the cut and that still lies on the banks of the Nahanni

Personal illness, injury and challenging weather accepted as just a part of the process when in the moment those struggles came to define the group experience. So too moments of incredible technology such as a snare crafted from a swan feather and the smell of smoked moose hide will exist only in the memories of those who were there. Such is the the process of film making.

When we return to the Nahanni for the expedition season where we will share these stories with our guests. We will stand in the small clearing where the boat was built and wonder in awe how these delicate craft navigate the power of the Nahanni.

Joel Hibbard and an oar with a standard canoe paddle for comparison

In the end though we have to commend the vision of Geoff Bowie and Herb Norwegian for understanding the potential power of this story and marshalling the resources that would allow it to be brought to life. Bravo and massi cho! It is my hope to see another moose hide boat descend the river with a beautiful name before another 100 years have passed us by.

Enjoy the film yourself on August 9th on the Documentary Channel!


Trace the path of the River of Forgiveness on our Classic Nahanni Adventure.

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