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The bridge to the future Add to ...

He is also mindful of the price of economic development, although he is thinking more of the human cost. He worries that domestic violence, along with alcohol and drug abuse, will mount because of the expansion, although he seems to accept the possibility as a necessary tradeoff. "There's always a negative. It's reality and you can't do nothing about it, it's just going to happen," he says.

He pauses, then adds that the combination of new social spending and the commitment of the people of Fort Providence to help each other could allow the hamlet to avoid the downside of growth. "Hopefully, we won't see too much of that."

Despite the importance of the bridge to Fort Providence's future, Mr. Vandell says the Deh Cho are ready to kill the project if they do not get a large enough share of the economic benefits -- if people such as Mr. Causca aren't able to find jobs as welders, for instance. There is more at stake than just dollars and cents, he adds. It's a matter of self-respect for the Deh Cho.

"If the community gets the expression that it's just going to be a bunch of white guys from Edmonton or Vancouver coming to build this thing, then no one is going to come around and push to get a job.

"They're just going to sit there and feel that we're no good because all these white guys are coming in."

It is a common sentiment among the aboriginal communities of the north: Simply being paid to watch southern workers and companies exploit natural resources is not acceptable.

Mr. Vandell says the Deh Cho are determined that the bridge will be built when they want, and how they want. "If we have to, we'll shut 'er down for a year."

The same mixture of hope and defiance can be found in Fort Liard, 400 dusty kilometres to the south, where another band of Deh Cho is much farther down the path of economic development -- but is still struggling to find high-skilled jobs for its members.

"We're relying too much on outsiders, people outside our community, to come here and run our business," says Floyd Bertrand, chief of the Acho Dene Koe.

The hamlet of 600 people is half-jokingly nicknamed the "Tropics of the North," partly because of its comparatively balmy summer climate -- the warm winter winds of the chinook occasionally pause here -- and partly because it is at the southern extreme of the Northwest Territories, just a short drive north of the boundary with B.C>

Fort Liard, where the speed limit is a leisurely 30 kilometres an hour, is usually a quiet place.

The Liard River gurgles alongside the northern edge of the settlement; across it lies the jumping-off point for the oil and gas exploration and production that has brought two very different kinds of growth to Fort Liard.

The first is an economic expansion that has seen per capita income soar in the past four years by 40 per cent, as band members profit from construction, catering and other activities to support the oil industry.

The other is a crime wave.

Derek Gonet, 18, has already seen the good and evil that growth can bring. He had just finished high school when he landed a job -- paying $42,000 a year -- with Chevron Canada Resources Ltd.'s natural gas production operations in August of last year, one of only two Deh Cho from Fort Liard to work directly in the energy industry.

This summer, Mr. Gonet was mugged. "I got jumped there a couple of months ago by a bunch of kids, and they beat me up with sticks and everything. It's getting really rough there."

According to the RCMP, about one in 10 of Fort Liard's residents is in jail, or awaiting sentence. The number of assaults rivals those in Hay River, a Northwest Territories town four times as large.

Almost all of the attacks in Fort Liard can be traced back to alcohol abuse and, with the spending power of income from the oil industry, to drugs, police say.

"Cocaine and marijuana are quite prevalent here," says RCMP Corporal Craig Seafoot.

Bootlegging has grown along with disposable income in Fort Liard, where there is no legal place to buy alcohol.

A $17 bottle of liquor purchased in Fort Nelson, B.C., can be resold for up to $100, Cpl. Seafoot says.

In the rest of the Northwest Territories, the story is much the same.

The number of crimes reported to police has soared in recent years; the crime rate is nearly four times the national average. There is some good news.

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