Dinjii Zhu' Ginjik (GWICH'IN)*Sahtúot’ı̨nę Yatı̨́ (SAHTU)*Deh Gáh Got’ı̨ (DEHCHO)*Tłı̨chǫ Yatıì (TŁĮCHǪ)*Dënesųłıné (AKAITCHO)

Atachùukąįį*Yamǫ́rıa*Zhamba Déja*Yamǫǫ̀zha*Hachoghe

Who was Yamǫ́rıa?

The ancient Dene lived in a dangerous and unpredictable world. Their land, Denendeh, was filled with giant animals who preyed upon people. Animals and humans could shift form and people often lived in fear.

During this period, a powerful man named Yamǫ́rıa appeared in Denendeh. He journeyed throughout the territory in order to help the people. Yamǫ́rıa destroyed the giant animals and separated people from animals, establishing a relationship based on mutual respect and understanding. He gave the people laws to enable them to live together in harmony. Yamǫ́rıa is remembered throughout Denendeh as the great traveller and lawmaker.

All Dene groups recount stories of this legendary man, whose name translates as The One Who Travels. He is most commonly known by his Sahtu name Yamǫ́rıa, but each Dene language has a different name for him.

Dene Elders

Read biographies of some of Denendeh's cherished Elders.

Dene Storytellers

Listen to recorded stories told by Dene Elders.

Dene Legends

Read legends in each of the NWT's Dene languages.

Dene Laws

Reflect on a selection of Dene Laws that guide the Dene world view.

Dene Artwork

View the Yamǫǫ̀zha paintings of Archie Beaulieu

Map of Denendeh

Browse the many locations associated with Yamǫ́rıa throughout the Northwest Territories and beyond.

Thanks and Acknowledgements

Many people over many years contributed to this exhibition.

Dene Elders

Elders have long held a revered place in Dene society. As carriers of cultural knowledge, they have long ensured that future generations of Dene youth would have the skills and grounding to survive and thrive in the challenging climate and terrain of Denendeh.

Below can be found only a sampling of the rich personalities who have enriched Dene tradition.

Dene Storytellers

In the spring and summer of 2007, a team from CBC North set out to Behchokǫ̀ and Tulita to record elders telling Yamǫǫ̀zha and Yamǫ́rıa stories in Tłı̨chǫ and Sahtu.

Dave Miller of CBC North produced these radio broadcasts because,

The most authoritative carriers of the Yamoria legends, the elders, are fast departing from us. Because Dene language and mythology are so intimately linked, it was important that the stories be presented in the languages in which they have always been told. The Yamoria stories are so fundamental to the Dene we felt it was time to present them in an accessible manner to a broader audience.

Listen to compelling soundscapes of Yamoria legends and learn more about our the storytellers.

  • Mendo

    Maurice Mendo

    view biography »
  • Lennie

    Julie Lennie

    view biography »
  • Rabesca

    Paul Rabesca

    view biography »

Yamǫ́rıa and the giant wolverine

This video is an excerpt from Wolverine, Devil of the North. It features George Blondin telling the legend of Yamǫ́rıa and the Wolverine. The animation is based on paintings by Archie Beaulieu. Produced in 2001 by Cogent/Benger Productions.

Dene Legends

Throughout Dene history, elders have kept their traditions alive by telling stories to younger generations. Yamǫ́rıa stories recorded by travellers and missionaries in the 1800s are very similar to stories told in Dene communities today. Many Dene elders feel it is important to record their stories so that they are preserved for the future generations.

As with any oral tradition, there are many regional versions of Yamǫ́rıa stories. Every Dene group in the Northwest Territories tells the story of Yamǫ́rıa chasing giant beavers, but the details change according to language, region and individual storyteller. The six stories told below are only a few of the many versions of Yamǫ́rıa stories in an ancient, dynamic and fluid storytelling tradition that lives on today.

Giant Beavers were as big as bears!

beaver cutout

The giant beaver (Castoroides Ohioensis) was abundant in parts of North America during the last Ice Age (the Pleistocene). It was the size of a black bear and could weigh up to 200 kilograms. Giant beaver fossils have been found in the Yukon’s Old Crow Basin, 150 kilometers north of the Arctic Circle. These fossils are between 60 000 and 130 000 years old.

Scientists state that the giant beaver became extinct during the last Ice Age, 10 000 years ago. Dene stories say there are a few giant beaver, called Tsacho, still alive in the NWT.

Excerpt: Beaver Territory by John Turo, Fort Good Hope, 1985
Background: Giant Beaver Pond by George “Rinaldino” Teichmann.

Dene Laws

Yamǫ́rıa created many Dene laws. They allowed people to live in mutual respect and harmony. The Dene laws remain important and guide how the way Dene live. Nine of the basic laws can be found here:

The Artwork of Archie Beaulieu

Yamǫǫ̀zha and his Beaver Wife

These colourful paintings by Archie Beaulieu narrate the story of Yamǫǫ̀zha and His Beaver Wife for a children’s book. They were commissioned by the Yellowknife Catholic Schools through funding from the Government of the Northwest Territories and the Department of Canadian Heritage. The story is based on a Tłı̨chǫ legend told by Vital Thomas to anthropologist June Helm in 1966.

Archie Beaulieu is a Tłı̨chǫ artist widely known for his abstract, fluid painting style and his rich use of symbols. He draws inspiration from many sources, including his grandmother’s stories, northern landscapes and his dreams. Archie creates art to express his Dene history and culture. He believes, “We can put a whole story on canvas or in a carving and it will always be there.”

Archie was born in the community of Behchokǫ̀ in 1952, where he lives with his wife Rose and their five children.

Yamǫǫ̀zha Eyıts’ǫ Wets’èkeè Tsà

Dıı nı̨htł’è chekoa gha nı̨htł’ètıı̀ wek’èch’àot’ı̨ t’à Yamǫǫ̀zha eyıts’ǫ wets’ekè tsà wegondı weghǫ Archie Beaulieu yı̨ı̨̀tł’è hǫt’e. Yellowknife Catholic School yenı̨ı̨̀htł’è xè Edzanèk’e gots’ǫ Ndèts’ǫ̀ K’aòwo eyıts’ǫ Canadian Heritage sǫǫ̀mba t’à gots’àgı̨̀ndı. Dıı whaèdǫ gondı Vital Thomas 1966 k’e June Helm done yats’ı̨lı̨ wenaòwo k’ezhǫdǫdee elı̨ ts’ǫ̀ yatı yıghàı̨̀ɂǫ.

Done łǫ gık’ezhǫ Archie Beaulieu Tłı̨chǫ nı̨htł’èchı̀ ehtsı̨dǫ elı̨ hǫt’e, nezı̨ nı̨htł’ètı̀ t’à ɂeètł’è eyıts’ǫ whacho dàanıwǫ t’à ɂeètł’è. Ası̀ı łǫ wek’echàot’ı̨ ts’ǫ eyıts’ǫ wetsı̨ wegondı t’à nı̨htł’èchı̀ yehtsı̨, edzanèk’e edàanı̀ ndè wegaht’ı̨ ghaà eyıts’ǫ nàte ghaà nı̨htł’èchı̀ yehts’ı̨. Archie weòt’ı̨ edàanı̀ gı̨̀nda eyıts’ǫ wenaòwo ghaà nı̨htł’èchı̀ yehtsı̨. Dıı hanı̨wǫ, “nı̨htł’èchı̀ wegondı lıbàlà k’e ats’ehɂı̨ dè haanı-le dè ası̀ı t’à ası̀ı ts’ehtsı̨ nındè hot’ałǫ̀ ı̨da whaà gots’ǫ̀ wegohłı̨ ha hǫt’e.”

Archie 1952 Behchokǫ̀ dǫelı̨, akǫ wets’èke Rose eyıts’ǫ wekęę̀ sılaı xè nàdè.

Birchbark Canoe

birchbark canoe

This birch bark canoe was made by Chief Jimmy Bruneau of Behchokǫ̀ in the early 1970s.

Dene stories describe Yamǫ́rıa traveling great distances by birch bark canoe. According to a Gwich’in story told by Tony Andre, Atachuukąįį dreamt the canoe into being. He fell asleep and dreamt of a wooden frame, a birch bark covering and sticky spruce gum to make it waterproof. When he awoke, a canoe was ready.

Object: PWNHC 973.027.001

Map of Denendeh

Many Dene place names describe Yamǫ́rıa’s imprint on the land. They are reminders of this important cultural hero and the storied landscape inhabited by the people of Denendeh. The map below charts some of the places Yamǫ́rıa is believed to have visited on his journeys and describes what happened at these special sites. Please note that locations for many sites are approximate or have been obscured to protect cultural values.

Click on the placemark pins to open the associated story.


What Happened to Yamǫ́rıa?

People say that when Yamǫ́rıa left Denendeh, he paddled to the Arctic Ocean. Some say that he disappeared entirely. Others say he is still out there, travelling around the world.


The Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre would like to acknowledge the following individuals and organizations for their contribution to this exhibit:
  • Alestine Andre, Ingrid Kritsch, Gwich’in Social and Cultural Institute
  • Paul Andrew, David Miller, Catherine Pigott, CBC North
  • Ted Blondin
  • Albert Canadien, Official Languages, Department of Education, Culture and Employment, Government of the Northwest Territories (ECE, GNWT)
  • Rene Fumoleau
  • Dianne Lafferty, Yellowknife Catholic Schools
  • Tessa Macintosh, Photography
  • Gladys Norwegian, ECE, GNWT
  • Raymond Sonfrere, Yamózha Kúé Society (Dene Cultural Institute)
  • Theytus Books, Publisher
  • Mindy Willett, Cranberry Consulting
  • John B. Zoe
  • Anne Biscaye (Dënesųłıné)
  • William George Firth (Gwich’in)
  • Dora Grandejambe (Sahtu)
  • Doug Dillon (Sahtu for CBC North)
  • Violet Hardisty (Dehcho)
  • Alice Mackenzie (Tłı̨chǫ for CBC North)
  • Camilla Nitsiza (Tłı̨chǫ)
  • Phillip Rabesca (Tłı̨chǫ for CBC North)
  • Mary Siemens (Tłı̨chǫ for Theytus Books)
  • Mary Rose Sundberg (Tłı̨chǫ and Yellowknives Dene)
  • Lise Lamarre, Simon-E. Lamoureux (French)
  • Gabe Andre
  • Tony Andre
  • George Blondin
  • Madeline Drybone
  • Stanley Isaiah
  • Mary Kendi
  • Julie Lennie
  • Maurice Mendo
  • Victoria Mercredi
  • Harry Simpson
  • Paul Rabesca
  • Paul Wright

The Land Is Our Storybook

Many of the photos presented here can also be found in The Land Is Our Storybook series of books for children about the land and people of the Northwest Territories, as they exist today. Mindy Willett, an educator from Yellowknife, has written the stories of everyday life in accordance with stories told to her by storytellers, Elders, and cultural leaders from ten different regions in the territory. The books are illustrated by the striking images of northern photographer, Tessa Macintosh.