Sacred Dene tree in Yellowknife downed during high winds

Yellowknives Dene Chief Edward Sangris confirmed the tree had been toppled Friday afternoon.

Tree connected to Dene legend of Yamozha and a site of regular offerings

The sacred tree on the banks of the Yellowknife river was toppled during high winds Friday afternoon. (Michael Vautour)

A sacred tree of the Dene, on the banks of the Yellowknife River, was felled Friday afternoon, Yellowknives Dene Chief Edward Sangris has confirmed.

The tree has a deep spiritual significance to the territory's Dene and is the site of regular offerings.

Michael Vatour, a local resident, says he was picking berries in the area when it happened.

"We heard a loud crack," said Vatour. "We turned to look behind us and the large tree that was there just fell over from a big gust of wind, and just narrowly — very narrowly — missed my vehicle."

"We had a lady stop, who came up and was almost in tears, saying, 'Do you know what tree this is?'" he said.

Winds reached gusts of up to 70 km/h in Yellowknife Friday afternoon, according to Environment Canada.

The tree is part of the Dene legend of Yamozha, who's believed to have travelled the territory 8,000 years ago, according to Yellowknives Dene elder Fred Sangris.

Yamozha is credited with breaking a beaver dam that had flooded the area around the Yellowknife river. After breaking the dam, the sacred tree was one of many trees able to flourish in the area.

Dene elders have said whoever goes up the river should stop and pay honour and respect to that tree. For generations, Dene have made offerings, affixing coins, beads, and tobacco to its bark.

In 2015, a full replica of the sacred tree was unveiled at the Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre.

'We had a lady stop, who came up and was almost in tears, saying, ‘Do you know what tree this is?’' says Michael Vautour, who was at the site when the tree was toppled. (Michael Vatour)