Moments and Milestones

The roots of NWT Devolution go back as far as 1898. That is the year the provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan were carved out of what was then a much larger Northwest Territories. At that time, the Northwest Territories (which included what would later become Nunavut) was governed from Ottawa by a Commissioner and a Council appointed by the federal government.

In 1951, residents of the NWT were first able to elect members to the Territorial Council (which would eventually become the Legislative Assembly). Since then, there have been many important steps taken to change the way in which Northerners are governed and govern themselves. This has included the progressive transfer of powers away from the federal government to the Government of the Northwest Territories.

What follows are some milestones and memorable moments in the evolution of the Government of the Northwest Territories over the last fifty years:

1967 – The Civil Service moves from Ottawa to Yellowknife.

  • Between 1905 and 1967, the members of the council that ran the Northwest Territories lived and worked in Ottawa. Administrative functions for the territory were mostly carried out by civil servants in Fort Smith, NWT. Giving the Northwest Territories more autonomy from Ottawa by making Yellowknife its capital was recommended by the three-member Carrothers Commission.
  • Six towns were in the running to be the capital: Yellowknife, Fort Simpson, Fort Smith, Hay River, Pine Point, Frobisher Bay (now Iqaluit) and Rankin Inlet. Yellowknife had the largest population at 3,000. Arthur Laing, then the federal minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development made the final decision. On January 18, 1967, he announces Yellowknife will be the new capital and the seat of government. The 6th NWT Council is appointed, Stuart Hodgson becomes the first NWT-based Commissioner, and Chief John Tetlichi becomes the first Dene member appointed. On September 18th, a small group of civil servants arrive in Yellowknife by plane to set up government operations.

1969 – The current flag of the NWT and the new license plate design is introduced. GNWT becomes responsible for education and social services.

  • The territorial government holds a competition for a new license plate design to mark the Territory’s Centennial in 1970.
  • Authority for making laws and delivering public programs in education and social services is transferred to the GNWT.

1970 – The 7th NWT Council is elected/appointed and the GNWT sees two political firsts.

  • James Rabesca and Nick Sibbeston were the first elected Dene members and Lena Pedersen was the first female member.

1971 – The Government of the Northwest Territories assumes authority for the courts.

1973 – The Inuit Tapirisat of Canada (ITC) begins investigating Inuit land use and occupancy of the North.

  • This investigation eventually reveals the extent of their Aboriginal title. This study forms the geographical basis of the Nunavut Territory and includes the Beaufort Delta area of the NWT.

1974 – GWNT takes over responsibility for housing.

  • The federal government transfers authority for making laws and delivering programs related to housing to the GNWT.

1974-77 – The Mackenzie Valley Pipeline Inquiry travels to communities across the NWT.

  • During the Mackenzie Valley Pipeline Inquiry, Justice Thomas Berger visits 35 communities in the western Arctic, to hear Northerners’ views about the construction of a gas pipeline from Alaska to the Mackenzie River Delta, and south along the Mackenzie Valley. After listening to almost 1000 people, Justice Berger recommends that no major pipeline should be built along the Mackenzie Valley for ten years, to give time to settle Aboriginal land claims. Plans for the pipeline are put on hold.

1975 – First fully elected NWT Council/Assembly has a majority of Indigenous members.

  • 8th NWT Council/Assembly is the first to be fully elected. It is the first government in Canada to have a majority of elected members who are Indigenous people.
  • This is also the year that the Dene issued the “Dene Declaration” calling for the right to be regarded as a nation.

1976 – Political development of the NWT is reviewed.

  • NWT Council officially becomes known as the Legislative Assembly. The Assembly chooses its own Speaker (David Searle) and names two members to the Executive Committee.

1979 – The 9th Legislative Assembly is elected.

  • The Legislative Assembly does not have a permanent location and meets in Yellowknife hotels.

1980 – The process of reclaiming the Aboriginal names of many NWT communities begins.

  • George Braden becomes the first elected Government Leader (equivalent of Premier).
  • NWT communities begin the process of reclaiming their Aboriginal names, but it takes several years for official name changes to occur. Fort Franklin becomes Délı̨nę in 1993. In 1994, Snowdrift becomes Łutselk’e, Arctic Red River becomes Tsiigehtchic and the Yellowknives Dene Community within Yellowknife is named Ndilǫ. Communities continue to reclaim their traditional names to the present day.

1982 – The first plebiscite is held on the creation of Nunavut.

  • A plebiscite on the creation of Nunavut is held and 56.6% of NWT residents vote in support of division. It takes three more plebiscites and 17 years before Nunavut is created in 1999.

1984 – The Inuvialuit Final Agreement is signed and the NWT Official Languages Act is passed into law.

  • Richard Nerysoo, a Gwich’in Dene, becomes the first aboriginal Government Leader.
  • The Inuvialuit Final Agreement is signed
  • The NWT Official Languages Act is passed, giving official status to 7 Aboriginal Languages, in addition to English and French.
  • GNWT takes over authority for highways.

1986 – Arctic College is established.

1987 – GNWT takes over authority for Forestry.

1988 – GNWT takes over authority for Health and Power.

1991 – The 12th Legislative Assembly is elected and Nellie Cournoyea becomes Premier.

  • Cournoyea is the first female Premier of the NWT and the first to use the title “Premier”, rather than Government Leader.
  • In November 1991 it is announced that diamonds had been found about 300 km northeast of Yellowknife. This find leads to one of the largest mineral staking rushes in Canadian History. Within four years, millions of square km are claimed in the central barren lands.

1992 – The Gwich’in Comprehensive Land Claim Agreement is signed.

  • The agreement is the first regional land and resource agreement signed in the NWT.
  • A plebiscite endorses the proposed boundary between Nunavut and the western NWT.

1993 – The Sahtu Dene Metis Comprehensive Land Claim Agreement is signed.

1994 – Queen Elizabeth II dedicates the Legislative Assembly Chamber.

1995 – GNWT takes over authority for all NWT airports.

1996 – GNWT employees get “Donny Days” for the first time.

  • Premier Don Morin institutes a week without pay during the Christmas holidays – known as “Donny Days” – as a cost-cutting measure.

1997 – Financial resources and authority for territorial elections is transferred from the federal to the territorial government.

1999 – Nunavut and the new NWT are created.

  • The NWT holds its first election with the new electoral boundaries. 19 members are elected to 14th Assembly with Anthony (Tony) Whitford becoming the first Speaker of the new NWT and Stephen Kakfwi becoming the first Premier of the new NWT.
  • The NWT adds the diamond, Arctic grayling and tamarack as territorial symbols.

2001 – Members of the 14th Legislative Assembly pass the National Aboriginal Day Act.

  • The passing of this Act makes the Northwest Territories the first jurisdiction in Canada to recognize this day as a statutory holiday.

2002 – The Tłįchǫ Agreement and the Salt River First Nation Treaty Settlement Agreement are signed.

  • The Salt River First Nation Treaty Settlement Agreement is an agreement addressing treaty land entitlement claim, also known as a specific claim. Under the agreement, the Salt River First Nation receives a capital transfer from the Government of Canada as well the establishment of reserve lands.

2003 – The NWT now had 11 official languages.

  • The 15th Legislative Assembly is elected. The NWT Official Languages Act is updated to include 11 official languages: Chipewyan, Cree, English, French, Gwich’in, Inuinnaqtun, Inuktitut, Inuvialuktun, North Slavey, South Slavey and Tłįchǫ.

2005 – The Tłįchǫ Agreement comes into effect.

  • The agreement is the first in the NWT to include self-government powers.

2008 – The Legislative Assembly begins territorial television broadcasts of its proceedings in all official languages.

2010 – The first Elders Parliament is held and the Single Window Service Centre pilot projects is initiated.

  • Each Single Window Service Centre is staffed with a Government Service Officer, many of which speaks an Aboriginal language and provides assistance to residents in small communities in accessing GNWT and Government of Canada programs and services. Since the program was launched, it has grown across the Northwest Territories from 8 to 20 Single Window Service Centres.

2011 – The 17th Legislative Assembly is elected.

  • This is also the year that Prince William and Kate Middleton visit the NWT.

2012 – The Deh Cho Bridge opens.

  • With the opening of the Deh Cho Bridge in November of 2012, the Merv Hardie ferry is retired from service in the fall of that year.

2014 – The Northwest Territories Lands and Resources Devolution Agreement comes into effect and the GNWT becomes responsible for managing public land, water, and resources in the NWT.

  • A key feature of the agreement is the establishment of an Intergovernmental Council to allow the public and Aboriginal governments to collaborate on matters related to lands, water, and resource management. The inaugural meeting of the Intergovernmental Council was held on September 19.
  • In addition, the Northwest Territories Intergovernmental Resource Revenue Sharing Agreement sets out terms and conditions for the sharing of resource revenues from public lands in the NWT among the GNWT and Aboriginal government signatories to the Devolution Agreement. The GNWT committed to share up to 25% of its resource revenues with these Aboriginal governments – an unprecedented sharing arrangement in Canada.

2016 – The Délı̨nę Final Self-Government Agreement comes into effect and the new GNWT visual identity program is launched.

  • The Délı̨nę Final Agreement comes into effect on Sept 1, 2016. The creation of the Délı̨nę Got’ı̨nę Government (DGG) is the first combined Indigenous/public government in the NWT. Unlike other Indigenous governments, the DGG represents and serves both Délı̨nę First Nation Citizens and all residents of Délı̨nę.
  • The new identity includes a pictorial bear (without text), GNWT wordmark and curve-in-motion, as well as corporate fonts, and colours.