Continued from Page 1…
"There is no industry in this area," says Fred Carmichael, based in Inuvik and president of the Gwich'in Tribal Council, which is a strong supporter of the pipeline. "This is critical to the north. Sure, there's a downside to everything. But, you know, anything's better than raising your children on welfare."
The biggest challenge, he says, is training, making sure his people are ready to take advantage when the time comes.
Like many northern leaders, Mr. Carmichael grew up on the land, born in the Delta, hunting and trapping until his late teens. He then pursued a career as a pilot and started an airline. It is another divide, the last generation to live on the land and the first generation to embrace the ways of the south.
Now 71, Mr. Carmichael wants more for his people than government handouts. And he rejects emotional arguments about traditions and living off the land.
"If kids want a light, they flick a switch. They want heat, they turn up a thermostat. They don't go chop wood or haul it out of the bush. They don't know how. So let's stop fooling ourselves and say we want to go back to the land. . . . Let's be real here, and say, 'Listen, we've moved on. The land was good to us. We can no longer make a living out there but the creator has provided an alternative for us.' "
The Inuvialuit also call the Delta home and also strongly support the pipeline. Like the Gwich'in, and the Sahtu in the central Mackenzie, the Inuvialuit have settled land claims, deals that underscore their backing for the project. The Deh Cho in the south are the fourth group on the route but have no finalized claim with Ottawa, a lack of legal standing that underscores discontent and distrust in that region.
Back at the school library in Fort Simpson, a couple of students are playing guitar in the corner after classes are over. The words of Mr. Carmichael don't resonate with everyone here. While Mikhaela Antoine helps a friend with her résumé, two other students sit nearby, explaining why they came away from a meeting of youth organized by the territorial government in Yellowknife in November opposed to the pipeline.
"I went in liking the pipeline and I came out not liking," says Jessy Leahy, a 16-year-old Grade 11 student. A presentation from Environment Canada officials influenced him in particular. "All the ecosystems in the region will be affected by the pipeline," he says.
Jackie Thompson, a 15-year-old Grade 10 student, says the repercussions of development will be felt by her generation, not the current leadership that mostly supports the pipeline.
"It's going to be us that will have to deal with the problems of the land and the drugs and alcohol it will bring."
Outside, it's about four in the afternoon and the sun is setting over Fort Simpson, situated on a small island where the Liard and Mackenzie rivers meet. The trees -- aspen, spruce, pine -- are all white, covered thick with hoarfrost, stunningly beautiful. But the hoarfrost here isn't normal, occurring so intensely this year only because December was unusually warm and wet.
For Herb Norwegian, Deh Cho grand chief, the hoarfrost is not a good omen. He has stood opposed to the pipeline, arguing the Deh Cho aren't being treated fairly. He too grew up on the land and feels it changing. "It's apocalyptic, like a nuclear winter," Mr. Norwegian says. "The only thing missing is the four horsemen. . . . You can almost hear the bulldozers rumbling."
He speaks passionately but divides are everywhere. His older brother, Robert Norwegian, works in the Deh Cho area as a regional liaison for Imperial Oil Ltd., the pipeline's main proponent.
Robert Norwegian spent several decades working in the pipeline business in Alberta. Like Mr. Carmichael, he says the past is gone but what's replacing it is valuable, too.
"It's not just like it was in the '70s here. People had outdoor shithouses. No phone. Wood for heat," Mr. Norwegian says.