Mark Pocklington was on top of a mountain near Nahanni Butte, N.W.T., heading the project to remove boulders to restore a sacred site last month, when someone came rushing back with news.

"'Hey, there's a big heart-shaped rock out there, right out in the open,'" recalled Pocklington, the SAO of the community.

A band member, James Konisenta, was walking near the sacred site — called Tthenaago — when he discovered it.

Heart shaped rock nahanni butte

James Konisenta discovered the rock in August, after helping out with the sacred hole restoration project. (Submitted by Nahanni Butte Dene Band)

The group went to have a look at the rock enveloped by a bed of grass.

"I've been in prospecting for a very long time; I'm always looking at rocks. And it's very rare you would see something like that," said Pocklington.

nahanni butte sacred hole clean up

Crews worked to open up a sacred vent hole on top of a mountain near Nahanni Butte, N.W.T. The hole is central to Dene legend but was closed several years ago during construction of a radio tower. (Submitted by Nahanni Butte Dene Band)

How this peculiar rock might be associated with the re-opening of the nearby sacred site became the talk of the town. Earlier this month a group of RCMP, government and local workers and a helicopter removed boulders that covered up sacred hole after an RCMP radio tower was installed several years ago.

The Dene legend behind the sacred hole talks about giant beavers that roamed around and terrorized the people in the Dehcho region. The hole was created by the Great Spirit, who used his walking stick to trap the beavers inside, saving the people from extinction.

Community leaders have been calling for the hole to be uncovered.

"After all that happens, lo and behold, this rock appears and everyone seems to be talking about that more than anything."

The rock 'naturally shaped'

Pocklington, a former prospector of minerals and rocks in the Yukon and B.C., says no one knows how the rock got there, but believes it was there all along.

"How it got there was kind of a puzzle to everybody, because it's not like it fell down from anything—from the mountain above."

"Yamoria left his heart there for us." - Jayne Konisenta

He added that the rock seemed to be authentic.

"It's absolutely naturally shaped," he said, adding that if it was man-made, the rock would have chisel marks, or would be chipped. Pocklington also noted the presence of lichen on the rock.

heart shaped rock

James Tonka (left) and Steve Vital (right) pose with the heart-shaped rock after working to re-open up the sacred hole. (Submitted by Nahanni Butte Dene Band)

For Jayne Konisenta of Nahanni Butte, the news of the heart rock brought forth a heap of emotions.

"Chills just ran down my spine and everything, and I just got all teary eyed and I thought, 'oh my goodness'" said Konisenta.

"When they discovered this rock shaped as a heart, it meant a lot to the community."

Konisenta says there's talk around the community that the heart belongs to Yamoria, a Dene hero figure.

"Yamoria left his heart there for us," said Konisenta.

Others have been saying the rock is a "healing rock," said Pocklington.

"There's a lot of healing perhaps that's needed, and it's like the mountain speaking back saying, 'Hey. Here.'"

Both Konisenta and Pocklington say they hope the rock will be left where it is.

With files from Lawrence Nayally, Peter Sheldon