Courtesy I. Kritsch/GSCI

Courtesy I. Kritsch/GSCI

Nagwichoonjik (Mackenzie River) National Historic Site

Statement of Significance

Nagwichoonjik (Mackenzie River) National Historic Site of Canada is the cultural landscape along the section of the Mackenzie River that traverses the traditional homelands of the Gwichya Gwich’in of Tsiigehtchic (formerly Arctic Red River). This historic place extends from Thunder River on the southeast boundary of their country to Point Separation in the Mackenzie Delta, a 175-kilometer section of the river.

Nagwichoonjik (Mackenzie River) was designated a national historic site of Canada because:

  • it is prominent as a cultural landscape within the Gwichya Gwich’in traditional territory;
  • it is culturally, socially and spiritually significant to the people;
  • the history of life on the land and along the river is remembered through names that are given to a great number of places on the land and along the river.

The heritage value of Nagwichoonjik (Mackenzie River) is reflected in the cultural landscape along the river that reflects the river’s role as a principal repository of the stories (oral histories) that suffuse with meaning the history of the landscape as the Gwichya Gwich’in know it. The traditional lifestyle of the Gwichya Gwich’in has been shaped by their close connection with the land and the river, and many points along the river play an essential role in the transmission and survival of Gwich’in culture. Nagwichoonjik represents the complex sets of relationships between the Gwich’in people, their traditional lands and their past, before and after the arrival of the European explorers.

Key elements that contribute to the heritage character of the site include:

  • the Mackenzie River and the land along its banks between Thunder River and Point Separation in its location and as a dramatic river valley consisting of a wide waterway, beaches, high cliffs in some places and gentle slopes in others, cut with many creeks, and displaying human impacts from pre-contact to modern times;
  • archaeological evidence of Gwich’in use, including camps, settlements, fisheries, quarries, connecting trails and trail heads, burial places, ritual and sacred places;
  • the health and wholeness of the riparian ecosystem (its water quality, quantity, rates of flow, sandbars and siltation, fish quality, the health of species such as inconnu and moose;
  • the undisturbed land and unimpeded views of the river and along the valley from the river;
  • sacred sites along the river (currently being identified by the Gwich’in Cultural Institute);
  • ritual sites along the river (currently being identified by the Gwich’in Cultural Institute);
  • Gwich’in knowledge of traditional place names along the river.

Quoted from Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada Minutes, June 1997; Commemorative Integrity Statement.

Supporting documents can be obtained from National Historic Sites Directorate, Documentation Centre, 5th Floor, Room 89, 25 Eddy Street, Gatineau, Quebec.