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1899 and After

A Bush Land Future?

Ben Marcel 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.

Willis Flett 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 theTeenagers relaxing on a precambrian rock outcrop at fort Chipewyan,1980 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 this story.

Reprinted from Bush Land People with permission of the author. Copyright Terry Garvin 1992-2002.

©copyright Heritage Community Foundation 2002.  All Rights Reserved.