The skill, knowledge and memories of the elders are rooted in a time
when aboriginal culture and heritage were a significant part of day-to-day
lives. People were born into a bush land fur-market economy. This was
influenced by their wish to be bush people and the world fashion
industry's wish that urban people be clothed in "exotic" furs,
which resulted in the worldwide fur-trading industry.
Bush land senior citizens are now faced with a dilemma. They have their
own aboriginal culture - the culture of a fur-market economy, but they
also have to understand the industrial culture, which has become a
significant part of the lifestyle of their own younger people. Parts of
the traditional culture have been lost to them, either by choice or by
changes forced by a predominantly non-Native culture from the South. A
small percentage of the total native population retains a self-sufficient
tradition. Only a small part of the total Canadian aboriginal population
lives in the northern bush lands today.
The children and grandchildren of the bush land elders today also have
a role to play in preserving and conserving their culture. They must deal
with the rapidly increasing influence of industrialized life upon their
own lives. Clearly, the southern culture is very different from the
aboriginal culture in terms of personal values.
Younger people are supported by elders, other community leaders and
non-Natives who understand traditional ways and history. Native youth are
learning the traditional teachings of the elders. This is helping them to
know that they have choices. There is a trend, also, for students to
pursue broad educational goals. By combining traditional instruction with
public schooling they can have the best of both worlds.
More and more native people are entering the industrial world. Young
people have a heritage in the bush land culture and will remember this
heritage as they take part in local industry. They will retain strong
emotional and ceremonial ties to aboriginal ways. For some, an
understanding of those ways will diminish as one generation succeeds
another and as they tend to be assimilated onto mainstream Canadian
society. Yet, it is quite unlikely that complete assimilation, in the
sense that every person in this country will be alike or the same, will,
or should ever take place.
The present and the future seem uncertain, and young people in the
northern bush land are faced with difficult decisions. It is not just a
matter of moving from one culture to another; it is a matter of dealing
with the fact that the cultures are strikingly different. Old ways were
based on the understanding that everyone knew everyone else, that
decisions were taken together and that the people in the bush land were
one. Now the young people have to deal with a world that is a global
village. The global village has intense competition, and people are too
often judged in terms of material success.
Still, the bush land people will retain and build upon their heritage.
This is to the credit of many Native community leaders. It is also to the
credit of interested non-Native people. In the midst of so much
change in a relatively short period of time, the northern youth will find
it important to hold firmly to the ideas, beliefs and values of their
elders. The real challenge is for northern Native youth to sustain their
Native heritage and be a part of the industrial world at the same time.
Aboriginal culture is an important part of what Canada has been, is and
can be. Young persons are the ones who have the opportunity now to
preserve and conserve the important elements of their culture. These young
people also have their stories to tell. Some of them helped with the ones
told here. Through them and their elders, this book hopes to preserve
elements of the bush land experience as it was defined by the people in
Reprinted from Bush Land People with permission of the author.
Copyright Terry Garvin 1992-2002.