The Northwest Territories became recognized as a distinct part of Canada in 1895, when the territories were divided into the Districts of Franklin, Mackenzie, Ungava, and Yukon. At that time, the boundaries set for the Yukon were nearly the same as its current configuration. In 1897, there was a change in the political status of the Yukon in response to the changing administrative needs of the district as a result of the discovery of gold in the Klondike region in 1896. In 1898, the Yukon achieved recognition as a separate territory under the Yukon Act with its own government structure.
The Northwest Territories then remained static in terms of its geographical boundaries north of 60o until the 1990s, when an agreement was reached to create the new territory of Nunavut in the eastern part of the Northwest Territories (Simpson et al., 1994) where the population is approximately 85% Inuit. Nunavut formally came into being on April 1, 1999. Canada now has three territories, Yukon, Northwest Territories, and Nunavut, each with their own representative governments and legislatures. As time goes on, more and more governing powers are being transferred to the territories from Canada's federal government in
Ottawa. A proposed new Yukon Act will provide the Yukon government with control over the management of public land and resources and water rights in the Yukon, with certain exceptions such as the national parks that remain under federal jurisdiction. The Government of Canada, the Government of Yukon, and the First Nations of Aboriginal peoples will work closely together to ensure a smooth transition of these functions and powers from the federal government to the Yukon Government. Similar devolution of government to the Northwest Territories is still under negotiation.
Many Aboriginal land claim settlements are either completed or in process at present in Canada's North (see Land Claims). Self-government is becoming a reality in Nunavik for the Inuit in northern Québec, the former Ungava district. Land claim agreements have been consummated in the Northwest Territories, for the Inuvialuit in 1984 and for the Gwich'in in 1992. These agreements recognized Inuvialuit and Gwich'in ownership of settlement lands and set out the boundaries of these lands. They also detailed the ownership of subsurface minerals and petroleum resources. However, the agreements did not empower the Inuvialuit and Gwich'in to govern themselves. For this reason, regional self-government negotiations are also in process with the governments of Canada and the Northwest Territories in the Beaufort-Delta region near Inuvik, with the Inuvialuit and the Gwich'in peoples of the region working together in partnership. At present, many other land claim agreements are either consummated or in process for other First Nations in Canada.
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