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The bridge to the future Add to ...

Violent crimes, such as murder, are still relatively rare, property crimes have risen only slightly, and the number of drug offences has fallen slightly in the past decade.

So, while the crime rate has jumped by nearly a third in seven years, most of those offences are for less serious matters, according to the territory's statistics department. The vast majority are connected with alcohol in some manner, the department says.

Crime is one offshoot of oil money in Fort Liard, but there is another: hope. Exploration activity in the 1990s, and now oil and gas production, have made the band corporation, Beaver Enterprises, into a major source of jobs and profits for the Deh Cho in Fort Liard.

The signs of new-found prosperity aren't hard to find. Late-model pickups are parked in the driveways of houses crowned with satellite dishes, a dramatic change from even a decade ago.

Mr. Gonet remembers getting a choice when he was a kid of two TV channels, three if the weather was co-operative. Now, his aunt and uncle's house, like so many others in Fort Liard, receives hundreds of channels.

The hamlet has a great deal more creature comforts now, but it's not enough to keep an ambitious youth such as Mr. Gonet at home.

He wants to see the world, or at least the part of it that has an oil industry. His wanderlust kept him from taking a job with the band corporation, by far the largest employer in the hamlet. "If I'd worked for Beaver, I'd probably be staying in Liard all my life," he says.

Despite the wealth that comes from the activities of oil companies, the Deh Cho in Fort Liard are still wary. The band is to decide this fall whether to endorse a new round of exploration for oil and gas. A go-ahead would mean more revenue for Beaver Enterprises and its workers, as well as Chief Bertrand's plans to create scholarships to pay for high-school and post-secondary education for youths.

But more exploration could harm the natural environment, not to mention the already-stressed social environment in Fort Liard.

Whatever the decision on more exploration, life is changing in Fort Liard. Five years ago, Beverley Timbre went off to Fort Simpson to finish high school. After a few months, Ms. Timbre, homesick, retreated to the refuge of her family and neighbours.

Last fall, she set out again to attend school -- at 27 -- at Fort Smith Aurora College, a 10-hour drive from Fort Liard. She toughed it out this time, completing an accounting and business course.

The reason she did so is a little girl with beautiful long black hair, Ms. Timbre's three-year-old daughter, Precious.

Ms. Timbre and Precious are headed to Grande Prairie, Alta., this fall, where she hopes to earn a business diploma.

Once too afraid to complete Grade 11, Ms. Timbre is now ready to move hundreds of kilometres away to start a new life.

Compared with the plans to build diamond mines, energy pipelines and bridges, Ms. Timbre's ambition is shrinkingly modest. But she and Precious, leaving Fort Liard perhaps for good, are just as much a part of the new north, where the southern ideal of progress is being forged with aboriginal tradition, creating an alloy of the future and of the past.

For Ms. Timbre, the break from her past comes down to eight words, and the love of a mother for her child. "I wanted something better in life for her."

THE NORTHWEST TERRITORIES

The territory is a vast, sparsely populated land whose economy is almost entirely dependent on two things - the government, and its rich cache of natural resources. Here's a snapshot of the economy and the people.

The land (in million square kilometres)

NWT: 1.17

Ontario: 1.07

The people (Population as of April, 2003)

NWT: 41,351

Ontario: 12,141,863

If Toronto had the same population density as the NWT, the city would have fewer than 200 residents.

The economy

Fish/fur/meat: 1%

Oil: 26%

Gold: 16%

Arts and crafts: 1%

Diamonds: 50%

Gas: 1%

Tourism: 5%

SOURCES: ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT GOVERNMENT OF THE NWT, STATISTICS CANADA

THE SERIES

MONDAY: DIAMONDS

Reporter Wendy Stueck takes readers into the colourful heart of Yellowknife, a city bursting at the seams thanks to the explosive growth of the diamond industry.

TUESDAY: PIPELINE

Reporter Brent Jang examines how the aboriginal communities have shifted from opponents to full participants in efforts to tap the northern gas riches.

WEDNESDAY: POLITICS

The mining and energy projects in the Northwest Territories will generate billions. But who will share in those riches? As it stands, not the territorial government, Alberta bureau chief Patrick Brethour writes in the final part of our series.

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