Prime Minister Jean Chrétien signed a historic land claim and self-government agreement in Rae-Edzo, NWT, on Monday, giving some 3,000 Tlicho people the power to protect their way of life and control their land, resources and laws.
The Tlicho agreement creates the largest single block of First Nation owned land in Canada and provides new systems of self-government for the Tlicho First Nation (previously known as the Dogrib).
"I am honoured to be here to witness history in the making. We have come full circle from the day I shook hands here with Grand Chief Bruneau many years ago," Mr. Chrétien said. "It is with great admiration and respect that I congratulate the Tlicho people on this momentous step in taking even greater control of their future."
The agreement, some 13 years in the making, will come into effect as soon as it is ratified by Parliament and the NWT legislature, expected to happen in the spring. Monday's signing coincided closely with the 82nd anniversary of Treaty 11 - the Tilcho's first agreement with the federal government -- signed in 1921 by Chief Monfwi.
"The Tlicho Agreement is an extension to Treaty 11," said Grand Chief Joe Rabesca for the Tlicho Nation. "The dedication and hard work of all parties have made this day possible."
Under the Tlicho Agreement, the Tlicho government will be created, and through it the Tlicho people will own a 39,000-square-kilometre block of land between Great Slave Lake and Great Bear Lake, an area that includes both of Canada's diamond mines.
The Tlicho government will receive about $152-million over 15 years, as well as an annual share of resource royalties that the government receives from development in the Mackenzie Valley.
The aboriginal government will be eligible for a share of revenue from extensive energy development along the Mackenzie Valley and will be entitled to all royalties on resources from its own lands -- royalties that currently go to Ottawa.
The Tlicho government will replace four local band councils, the Treaty 11 Council and the four municipal governments now in the region. Tlicho legislative bodies will regulate daily life and have powers such as tax collection.
The federal government will retain control of criminal law, and the NWT government will keep many powers over services such as health and education. Tlicho laws will not be allowed to conflict with laws passed by other governments.
"This agreement puts the tools of self-sufficiency where they belong -- in the hands of the Tlicho people," Robert Nault, minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, said in a statement. "It gives the Tlicho more power to protect their way of life, to further responsible economic growth, and to increase community well being."
The agreement in principle was reached in January, 2000. The final agreement was reached about a year ago and overwhelmingly approved by the Tlicho in a vote on June 26-27. A total of 93 per cent of the Tlicho participated in the vote, and over 84 per cent of were in favour of the agreement.
With files from Canadian Press