The Northwest Territories has taken another step toward self-determination, signing a deal that will give five aboriginal governments a share of resource revenues.
The agreement, announced in Yellowknife on Thursday, inches the territory closer to "devolution," or the granting of province-like powers over land and resources by the federal government. NWT leaders saying the deal will cut red tape and spur growth. The territory has worked to win support of aboriginal governments, some of which say devolution threatens unresolved land claims.
Under devolution, Ottawa and the NWT will split the territory's resource revenues.
Thursday's deal means the NWT will give one-quarter of its share to aboriginal governments, largely to spend as they please. The territory will spend most of its portion and save the rest. Based on projections for 2014-2015, the aboriginal governments will get $15-million annually, with $45-million for the NWT and $60-million for Ottawa.
Five of seven NWT aboriginal governments have agreed, including some that already get resource revenue in deals that will not be affected.
"I think that we're entering into a new era of co-operation and collaboration," Premier Bob McLeod told The Globe and Mail, adding that devolution is key to his territory's development. "It truly means we can take our rightful place in Canada, and that the North will play an important and contributing role to the rest of Canada."
Mr. McLeod expects devolution will open the territory to more resource development. "I believe that [the deals will] provide for more development, but more balanced development is the way we view it, because aboriginal governments have a very close attachment to land and water, just as we do," he said.
The devolution pact was signed on June 25, 2013. It takes effect on April 1, when Ottawa will hand Yellowknife new revenues and responsibilities.
The Dehcho and Akaitcho aboriginal governments did not sign Thursday's deal, as they have not settled land claims or signed onto devolution.
"We feel that without any definitive arrangements [on land claims] with Canada, we cannot sign the agreement, because the very thing the feds are transferring to the [NWT government] is included in our discussion," said Chief Edward Sangris, leader of one of the First Nations communities that make up the Akaitcho Territorial Government.