Canada’s Northwest Territories signs historic devolution deal

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People of all ages gathered to witness the historic signing. (Desmond Loreen/CBC)
People of all ages gathered to witness the historic signing. (Desmond Loreen/CBC)

Leaders in Canada’s Northwest Territories (N.W.T.) have signed a final devolution deal with the federal government on Tuesday to transfer authority over land, water and resources to the territory.

The ceremony began around 6 p.m. MT Tuesday at the Midnight Sun complex in the Arctic Canadian community of Inuvik, (N.W.T.) The ceremony started with drumming and a prayer in the aboriginal languages of  Gwich’in and Inuvialuktun and it ended with a feast.

Robert Alexie Jr, the president of the Gwich’in Tribal Council, was one of the first to speak.

“We don’t have to fear devolution. It’s a new beginning,” he told the crowd.

Nellie Cournoyea, from the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation, said the implementation of devolution will be the biggest challenge for the territory. She said everyone must work together.

Not all aboriginal groups were keen to sign on to the agreement at first.

“The aboriginal groups and the territorial government have been negotiating for a while,” said Peter Clarkson, the N.W.T.’s regional director for the Beaufort Delta, and one of the organizers for the event.

“I think it’s going to be a great ceremony. It’s one of those moments in time, we will always look back on this, and this was the signing of the devolution agreement.”

Negotiations on the deal concluded in March. MLAs voted to approve the deal earlier this month.

N.W.T. Premier Bob McLeod signed for the territory, with Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Minister Bernard Valcourt for the federal government.

Regional leaders from five of the territory’s seven aboriginal groups also signed on to the deal.

The agreement will take effect next April.

Former premier was confident this day would come

Inuvik Mayor Floyd Roland said he knew this day would come. He was the territory’s premier when the devolution agreement in principle was signed in 2011.

Roland said the biggest challenge at first was getting support from aboriginal groups.

“They helped us set the agenda on it, and it was August of that year prior to signing that I sat down with regional leaders here in Inuvik.”

Initially, some felt the deal wasn’t good enough, and said the territory should hold out for more. But Roland said that would have delayed devolution.

“So I knew at some point we would come to a place in our history to say, ‘Is this agreement good to move forward or not?’ To see the new government pick it up, continue on and stand behind the agreement in principle was good to see,” he said.

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