What does Nahanni mean?

Nahanni is an evocative word. For many Canadians, whether you paddle or not, mentioning it summons images of the renowned Nailicho (Virginia Falls), of towering mountains, and a canyon kingdom. The word has become synonymous with adventure and wilderness. It is one of the finest representations of natural beauty in Canada.

While this is all true, the meaning of the word is found elsewhere, and it belongs to the people who call Nahanni home.

Early accounts penned by European traders, explorers and settlers refer to a mysterious First Nation known as the Naha. Raymond Patterson, of Dangerous River fame, explored the river nearly 100 years ago and told tales of fierce warriors whose reputation and female leader naturally made for good stories. As the 19th century wound to a close the stories remained, but it is believed the Naha began to settle into the routine of hunting and trapping through the winters and visiting the burgeoning trading post of Fort Simpson. Parks Canada officially shares a similar story:

For thousands of years the Dene people have used this land in spite of the forbidding terrain and unpredictable weather. They learned to find shelter from sudden rains, climb above flash floods and wait out early snows. The Naha were the Dene tribe who claimed the Mackenzie Mountains as their territory. They were nomadic within their territory, using different parts of the mountains and valleys according to the season. And they were fierce warriors, unhesitating in their attack upon anyone who camped within their boundaries and sometimes beyond.

— Canadian Parks

The Band Office in Nahanni Butte

At the foot of Tthenáágó (Nahanni Butte), sits the remote Dene community of Nahanni Butte. Founded in the early 1940’s, past guests will be familiar with this remote community. The elders here will simply say that Naha means the people who inhabit the Nahanni Valley. A close knit community where people spend a great deal of time on the land, their connection to the Nahanni remains intact. Combined with their continuous use of the area their history draws clear lines to the Naha.

The future for the Nahanni as a wild place depends on it being place of meaning for people from around the world. That it remains a place of beauty and wilderness is a testament to the values of the Naha, the Dene Nation and the Canadian people.

If you would like to visit the Nahanni’s wonders, whether it is a return journey or your first time on a river, the team at Nahanni River Adventures & Canadian River Expeditions is ready. View our adventures here.

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Whether you journey to experience abundant wildlife, verdant wildflowers or glacial vistas, our journeys are sure to exceed your expectations.

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