A site central to Dene legend near Nahanni Butte, N.W.T., has nearly been completely restored, after crews removed a radio tower and boulders blocking a hole at the top of the sacred mountain site Tthenaago.

As the legend goes, giant beavers once roamed the Northwest Territories' Dehcho region, terrorizing the Dene. A giant used his walking stick to put a hole on the top of a nearby mountain, driving the beavers inside and saving the people from extinction.

Tthenaago main vent hole

The main vent hole on top of the mountain, now clear of large boulders. (Submitted by Nahanni Butte Dene Band)

But several years ago, an RCMP radio tower was installed on top of the mountain. Boulders were used to cover the sacred hole without the community's permission, according to Chief Peter Marcellais.

After Marcellais raised the issue during a meeting of Dene leaders earlier this summer, RCMP technicians committed to moving the radio tower and re-opening the hole. RCMP moved the tower in July.

On Thursday, using support from the territorial government's department of Environment and Natural Resources, who provided a four-man field crew and helicopter support, crews moved the boulders, re-opening the hole.

"It feels great to be up there, just to watch the boys at work cleaning the rocks out," said Marcellais. "It was really good. A good feeling."

'Mother Earth is still the boss'

The removal came mere hours before Nahanni Butte residents were forced to evacuate their community due to a nearby wildfire. According to band manager Mark Pocklington, less than an hour after the hole was unplugged, the wind reversed direction and strengthened to a gale, causing smoke to blow towards the mountain and ultimately leading to the evacuation.

Community members made their way home over the weekend — the fire came within five kilometres of the community but did not damage any homes or infrastructure — and Marcellais believes the timeline of events was no accident.

"We're finally getting something done right for the mountain, so [the wind came] just to let us know Mother Earth is still the boss," he said. "Probably just thanking us, she sent a wind. She's still looking after us. That's what I think."

Marcellais said that fog in the community Monday stopped leaders from getting into a helicopter to assess the burned area from the nearby fire, but that they hope to do so "as soon as possible."

He also added that crews will soon head up the mountain to finish work on restoring the site.