One of the largest challenges Yukon deputy minister of Economic Development Justin Ferbey faced in developing tourism infrastructure for Carcross – including what has now become a successful series of mountain biking trails – was stepping on the toes of some of the area’s culture and history.
In his speech at the Northwest Territories Recreation and Parks Association conference last week, Ferbey said he had many long arguments with elders in Carcross who did not want to see their traditional trails turned into mountain biking paths, or who did not want traditional hunting grounds affected by the development of this trail system.
Eventually Ferbey’s arguments won out, to the benefit of Carcross, which has now become a global destination for mountain biking.
But that’s a touchy subject he navigated.
Everyone in the North is absolutely in favour of the preservation of Indigenous territories and ways of life. But the things we like don’t always line up with what we need.
We live in a world that demands value and efficient use of resources, and the North needs to make money somehow.
Luckily, there are all sorts of ways we can do that, from harvesting the natural resources in this rich land to developing destination tourism.
Both can marry traditional values with modern realities.
The only thing we can’t do is nothing, unless we’re resigned to a slow death.
An anti-development chorus has risen in recent years, not specific to the North but across Canada. In many cases, most notably with pipelines in the south, it has eschewed science for fear-mongering, ignoring real progressive elements of new technology, and instead advocating a blanket ban on development.
Considering our national debt, it’s a self-defeating position to suddenly put ourselves in. We can’t even afford what we bought yesterday, let alone the social programs we want tomorrow. It’s like a household being $100,000 in debt and Dad coming home to say, “Baby, I’m sticking it to the man and not going back to work tomorrow.” Now’s not the time, Dad.
Up here, there is nothing contradictory about retaining traditional lifestyles and meeting the demands of the world economy. Is there anything more indigenous to the North than the hardiness to not only survive the extreme elements, but use them to your advantage and thrive?
Thanks to the new trails in Carcross, travellers from across the world are experiencing a part of the North only the Indigenous and pioneers of the past knew. It might not be a 1:1 experience, but that’s sharing and extending culture while adapting to the demands of today.
This is not to blindly support every proposed project, but to note that it doesn’t have to be an either-or debate.
We can not only have tradition, but enhance it and develop the land at the same time.
Carcross should set an example that this land holds untapped potential and the debates on how to harvest that are worth having.