The Nahanni watershed has been recognized as a place of value for millenia. A place of nourishment, shelter and spiritual significance, the Nahanni region has been home to the Dene for thousands of years. Since contact with Europeans, a new set of values lured people into the Nahanni country. Europeans arriving in the early 1800s recognized the uncharted territory as a place of potential wealth. Alexander McLeod was the first recorded white man to venture into the Nahanni and he did so as an effort to expand the fur trade (Keough, The Nahanni Portfolio).
Since McLeod’s first winter expedition, countless individuals have made their way through the Nahanni’s broad valleys and deep canyons, each motivated by their own interpretation of value to be found in this vast wilderness. Albert Faille, Frank and Willie McLeod and Finlay Hunter are a few of the best-known names. Each of these men were compelled to endure hardship and uncertainty, to do so they placed value on something the Nahanni had to offer. Whether it was gold, adventure or the expansion of scientific knowledge, the draw of the Nahanni was strong.
Today, that draw remains intact, bringing people from around the world to marvel at the sheer canyon walls, the roar of Nailicho (Virginia Falls) and the quiet rush of the Nahanni’s current through the Gate. Those who travel through the Nahanni’s landscape today are also seeking elements that are quickly becoming worth more than gold in our fast-paced culture. Time in nature, the chance to unplug, to connect in a deeper way to a son or daughter or old friend; opportunities that, for a myriad of reasons, can be unattainable in our daily lives. Invariably, the value placed on these moments deepens while on the river. Often, people have not noticed how much they were missing or seeking exactly what the Nahanni provided them with.
Increasingly, I understand that the Nahanni offers travellers a value-laden experience, not in the all-inclusive sense of the word, but in a richer, more existential sense of what is truly important on this earth and how we will honour it.