On Tuesday, April 1, devolution becomes official in the Northwest Territories. It has been a long time coming.
More than a decade ago, while I was premier and the push for control of our own resources was taking off, The Globe did a major series on the idea and the opportunities it presented. Much of which was written then still applies, but much has changed, including the advancement of First Nations governments and awareness of the vast resources that the NWT has to offer.
Today, the people of the NWT are in a position to achieve what no other region in Canada has yet managed, and no other in the world has achieved well – a truly balanced, practical and workable approach to protection and development.
Most of the national news these past couple of years has focused on the Arctic and the Northwest Passage but, while these are of course important, much of the real action is happening in the rest of the Territory.
The North does not begin and end at the Arctic. There are Indigenous and Northern people who live on the boreal lands and water that make up the part of Canada that lies between the more populated southern regions of Canada and the Arctic Circle.
In this region there are many infrastructure projects. How we approach these vast resources will help define how we live as Northern people and Canadians on top of this world.
We support resource projects, diamond mines, ore and mineral, oil and gas – provided they are done right and respect First Nations rights and the needs of our environment. We need industry that is inclusive, from the development stage to the finale days of the project, and which will allow the needs of all to be heard and protected.
We also see the need for development that brings jobs, a better standard of living and the kind of security that can help maintain our cultures and ways of life. However, all of us who call the North our home do not want to see oil and gas development on the scale of the Alberta oil sands.
The NWT has a strong, diverse people who have overcome huge obstacles in the last 40 years while preparing for economic development on our own terms. We have always made it a priority to work together, while moving towards a bright future. I believe our North, where the people have never shied away from the hard work that is needed to create a balanced and inclusive approach to development, can serve as a model for the rest of Canada
The progress that has been made on self-government agreements with the NWT’s proportionally large Aboriginal population, plus land use plans, protected areas and the identification of a variety of mineral projects gives us a good head start in developing our resources.
First Nations-led land protection measures have been successful for such sensitive areas as the “Ts’ude niline Tu’eyeta (Ramparts), Edehzhie, Thaidene Nene and other key natural areas. How we proceed with these measures will help set the tone for the future as Northerners and Canadians.
Self-government for First Nations in the NWT have been progressing well, though there are still some details to be finalized. Those who have fought political and environmental battles over the decades are still very much part of the story here, but new generations have come along and we now have a strong emerging base of young indigenous peoples who are committed, educated and talented. The atmosphere is dynamic.
Devolution, which formally comes into effect on April 1, will mark an exciting beginning of the next chapter of our Northern history.
There is not yet unanimous acceptance of Devolution, or agreement on the benefits it will bring. The issue of land and water management boards is a significant one and has raised serious concerns about the true control that the people of the NWT will have over resources, and the respect for First Nations jurisdiction.
So yes, there are differences to be overcome, challenges to face and needs to be addressed. Our Territorial government working alongside First Nation governments, community leaders and industries must work together to achieve the best outcomes.
By working together – the way of our history and our culture – we are building a strong future for all of our children.
Stephen Kakfwi was premier of the NWT from 2000 to Dec. 2003, and spent a total of 16 years in various ministries in the NWT cabinet.