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Growing Towns

Fort RaeA major shift for many northern Aboriginal cultures has been the gradual move away from life in the bush towards a municipal based lifestyle. Industrial development in the region has led to economic growth in formerly remote northern settlements. This, in turn, has encouraged younger Aboriginal People to seek their fortunes in such industries, and to live the structured neighbourhood lifestyle that goes along with it. This lifestyle carries with it many conveniences not available in the bushlands, like access to centralized shopping and services. New technologies also move in as towns expand, and make available to traditional peoples items and services they did not have access to before. Snowmobiles replaced dog-pulled toboggans starting in the 1950s. Boats of aluminum replaced traditional wooden craft. Outboard motors replaced paddles. Even for those who uphold traditional ways of being, increased range and efficiency offered by new technologies is difficult to turn down.

While Aboriginal populations were experiencing a move from the forest and into the towns, the development of settlements was putting increased pressure on the region. Towns need roads and access to each other through highways. As the forest and petroleum industries continue to expand in the north, other support services develop in the settlements. Such settlements attract those people who come to the north seeking work; this increases both the populations of towns and cities as well as the demand for housing. As one example, Fort McMurray in northern Alberta has grown from a population of sixteen to over 60, 000 people between the years 1901 and 2005. High oil prices are expected to spur further growth in the future. The growth and expansion of towns has disrupted the natural rhythms of forest ecosystems and has made life more difficult for those who wish to continue living off the land. For those who have adopted a more urban lifestyle, the challenge remains to hold on to traditional values in a north very different from the one their ancestors knew.

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