Of the total Native population in Canada, only a very few live in the northern bushlands. Aboriginal youth, born into the industrial culture that is transforming the north, are less likely to continue the hunting and trapping subsistence lifestyle that their ancestors knew. Several factors have contributed to this movement among Aboriginal youth. First of all, younger generations observed that the traditional life of their ancestors was based upon linkages to a worldwide fur industry, but such an industry, at least in terms of the trapping and selling of wild furs, is no longer what it once was. Wild furs no longer figure prominently in the overall fur market, and the fur industry as a whole is in decline. For Aboriginal youth raised in a culture that favours economic success, the declining wild fur industry seems an impractical option. A second factor driving Aboriginal youth in the north to take a different path than their ancestors did is the fact that industrial alternatives to the fur industry are readily available. Forestry, petroleum, and any number of support industries have established themselves in the north, and these growing industries present Aboriginal youth with far more incentive to work for them than for a declining fur trade.
It is a conflict of culture between the older and younger generations of northwest Aboriginal People. The older generations were born to a hunting and trapping lifestyle, and learned the ways of the boreal forest so that they could survive in that environment. Their younger descendents have been heavily exposed to and influenced by an urban, southern based, non-Aboriginal culture that presents very different ways of thinking and doing.
As in all aspects of Aboriginal life, the key to cultural survival lies in education. While it is unlikely that younger generations of Aboriginal People will reject the industrial culture they were raised in to fully embrace more traditional Aboriginal values, it would be wrong to say that there is no room in their lives for lessons about the older ways. Many northern Aboriginal communities have stressed the need for Aboriginal youth to have a sense of place, to not only stave off the cultural erosion that can take place with each passing generation, but also to offset the feelings of alienation that some Aboriginal youth experience. Ironically, the very non-Aboriginal culture they have chosen to live in quite often shows little regard or understanding for them or their traditions.
Aboriginal youth are being shown that they have a choice. They can have the best of the old and the new if they open themselves to the values that ensured the survival of northern Aboriginal Peoples against those forces that threatened to tear them apart. The future of northwest Aboriginal culture rests in the hands of a generation educated both in the way things were, and in the way things are.