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If you wish to see the old blend with the new, come down to the Old Town, to a rocky hill back of a Quonset hut not far from Ragged Ass Road.

Here, on a sunny Sunday afternoon, you will find Koomuatuk Curley, 20, listening to hip-hop on his iPod as he works with various electric tools.

He is doing traditional Inuit carving.

Beside him, his cousin, Joe Ashoona, 18, and a promising young soccer player, is also carving.

Both hold chunks of alabaster in their hands, both periodically turning their pieces over and over as if trying to imagine what creature lies inside.

For the most part, they work from sight alone, the younger boy at one point lightly sketching with a pencil where he wishes to make a difficult cut with the electric saw.

They work all through the afternoon, with barely a break, and at the end of the sawing, the grinding, the filing and the long, arduous sanding in a basin of water, they have finished.

Koomuatuk Curley has carved a delightful bear that lies on its back as if finally getting relief from a monstrous itch.

Joe Ashoona has created two beluga whales, a mother and baby, and he has suspended them on pegs above a whale vertebrae that he and his family found on the shores of an isolated Arctic island. He has set them in such perfect motion that they seem like a three-dimensional photograph of floating belugas, the mother turning protectively toward her infant.

That these two young men are already so accomplished seems surprising, but shouldn't be. They have both been polishing since they could walk, and carving since they could be trusted with the sharp tools of the trade.

Their grandfather is Kiawak Ashoona, master carver from Cape Dorset; Joe's mother, and Koomuatuk's aunt, is Goota Ashoona, recognized as one of the finest female carvers in the world.

Both boys plan to make stone-carving their life, just as their family has for generations.

And yet, all around them, life is dramatically changing. The two young carvers can stand on their rock and see across Willow Flats, beyond the trailer park and all the way to the construction going up high over Niven Lake. Here, new houses are going for anywhere from $500,000 to $1-million or more.

Andy Cunningham, a young computer entrepreneur, has just spent $100,000 blasting enough rock free to allow him to put up a $750,000 house, built mostly with his own hands.

"I can build it," Cunningham says, wiping away the sweat, "but I don't know if I can afford to live in it."

No one, at the moment, knows exactly what they -- or, for that matter, the Northwest Territories itself -- can afford. They only know, for sure, that change is rampant.

As much as $10-billion may be spent bringing the Mackenzie Valley pipeline project to fruition by 2011-2012. A third diamond mine is under production, with no one knowing how much, ultimately, the precious gems will mean to this part of the country. The Diavik operation, second largest so far, has already pumped $1.55-billion into northern businesses, with another dozen years or more left in the life of that mine. And other mines are almost certain to come.

It has all brought back distant memories of former prime minister John Diefenbaker's famous "Northern Vision" speech from 1958, when Dief called for "a new Canada -- a Canada of the North!"

The Northern Vision was about opening up the Territories just as the railway had opened the West. Diefenbaker talked about building new roads and creating new energy sources. He talked of all Canadians, including those in the North, benefiting.

"Jobs!" Diefenbaker told his Winnipeg audience. "Jobs for hundreds of thousands of Canadian people. A new vision! A new hope! A new soul for Canada!"

This paper loved it. In an editorial that appeared on Valentine's Day, 1958, The Globe said the Northern Vision speech "struck a note which has not been heard since the completion of the transcontinental railways."

The editorial went on to say, "This Dominion's first great spurt of greatness was associated with the settlement of the Western Prairies. The development of the North could inaugurate an even greater era of expansion."

That vision fizzled, history will record, and history will one day have to judge what the current Northern Vision becomes.

There are the wild enthusiasts and the deeply concerned in the Northwest Territories, and a vast number who sit somewhere in between, wanting to raise one hand in triumph, the other in caution.

There are jobs and there is money. There is a $500-million Social Impact Fund. There are environmental safeguards and concerns. There is general acceptance that change is coming no matter what, so better to deal with that now, and properly, than ignore reality.

In the end, it takes an 18-year-old traditional carver to put it all in perspective.

Joe Ashoona looks up from his polishing and smiles.

"We'll just have to see how it goes."

rmacgregor@globeandmail.com