The Dehcho First Nations and Parks Canada held a traditional ceremony to open the Nahanni National Park Reserve at Gahnįhthah Mįe (Rabbitkettle Lake) and Nái̖li̖cho (Virginia Falls).

Saturday marked the first time Parks Canada has facilitated a traditional ceremony in the park, according to superintendent Jon Tsetso, though ceremonies have taken place on the same land for many generations.

“There seemed to be a sense of desire and urgency to connect ceremony and Dene people back to the park,” he said.

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Łíídlıı Kų́é First Nation Chief Jerry Antoine told Cabin Radio it was important for the Dehcho First Nations, of which Łíídlıı Kų́é is a part, to take a leading role in returning ceremonies to the park.

“Right now there is a national conversation talking about reconciliation and today they’re recognizing us,” said Antoine, who led the ceremony along with Angus Ekenale. “They’re realizing that the things they’ve done to us are wrong and shouldn’t have happened and they want to move forward.

“There is a very special role that we have out on the land. Having ceremonies in our communities and in our region is very important to start bringing these things back.”

Antoine described the ceremony as a celebration of spring and the renewal of the land, in which participants asked for blessings on peoples’ journeys throughout the season.

Local Dene Elders, First Nations leaders and parks staff, joined by visitors paddling through the park, fed the fire and sang or listened to drum songs.

In a statement, Parks Canada added: “This landscape has long been the home of Dene families who travelled the rivers and harvested the land to sustain themselves. Ceremonies like these give thanks to the Creator for the land, water, and animals that sustain life.”

“It was a very significant, very uplifting day,” said Tsetso. “I think this does show a concrete example of reconciliation in action and a long-term commitment to reconnecting and renewal.”

The Dehcho First Nations and Parks Canada co-operatively manage the park. Antoine called their collaborative work positive and inspiring.

“There’s more to come,” he said.