Familiar landmarks help us navigate our land. Embedded in the landscape are the First Nations names associated with these hills, mountains, rivers, lakes and campsites. Names can reflect physical characteristics or associations with people and activities. Fifteen Mile River is called Tsey dëk in Hän meaning Red Ochre Creek. Mount Jekyll, was first named Wehtr'e ddhal in Hän or Vihtr'ii ddhàa' in Gwich’in mean Flint Mountain, reflecting the importance of the site as a quarry. The Chandindu or Twelve Mile River is called Tthëndëk in Hän, meaning “Rock Creek” based on the river being a source for stone used to make tools.
Names also commemorate sites of ancient encounters among mythic figures. Below are a couple of examples.
Ëdhä dädhëchą - Moosehide Slide
The Hän name for this Dawson City landmark translates as “skin hanging up” due to its appearance of a moosehide stretched across the hillside. Elder Mary McLeod explained that was the site of a battle between cannibals and local people. Using stone axes, they cut down the largest tree on top of the hill and pushed it toward the invaders. The falling tree triggered a landslide which killed and buried the cannibals.
Nänidhät - Old Man Rock and Old Woman Rock
Along the Yukon River between Fortymile and Eagle is a place with two immense rocks on either side of the stream. According to one Hän story, the one on the north is called Old Man and on the opposite bank is the Old Woman. Formerly joined, the two quarrelled and separated, causing the Yukon River to change its course and flow between them.
Mary McLeod tells another story of a young girl who disobeyed a rule of her puberty seclusion; instead of sitting with her legs bent she stretched out her legs and pushed Old Woman Rock into the centre of the Yukon River. People complained that the river channel was blocked so she pushed the rock out farther so they could get by. This remarkable woman then travelled up the Yukon River by dog sled leaving marks along the way with her sled runners and eventually she became the rock just below Fort Selkirk, now known as Victoria Rock.
Illustration from storybook Moosehide Slide as told by Grandma Mary McLeod.
Artwork by Rob Ingram
Itsey ddhäl or Ëdzäk, Two-Eared Mountain behind Black City in the Blackstone Uplands, 2004.