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A sweeping northern land claim and self-government agreement that some compare to the creation of Nunavut is about to come into effect.

When Prime Minister Jean Chrétien signs the settlement Aug. 25 in the Northwest Territories community of Rae-Edzo, about 3,000 Dogrib in the west-central Arctic will have powers including taxation and land use over a territory larger than Belgium.

"Today's the day that a new era starts for us," says John Zoe, Dogrib head negotiator, who has been working on the agreement for half of the 20 years it has taken to reach.

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"It's a new world based on old principles. The dreams that we have, we have the tools now to make a reality - on our own terms."

The Dogrib will own 39,000 square kilometres between Great Slave Lake and Great Bear Lake, an area that includes both of Canada's diamond mines.

They will receive $152-million over 15 years, plus annual payments likely to amount to about $3.5 million.

In a first for northern settlements, the Tli Cho Agreement will give the Dogrib their own legislative bodies with the power to collect taxes, levy resource royalties and regulate everything from family law to licensing native healers.

The signing of the agreement will rank with the establishment of the NWT government in 1967 and the 1999 creation of Nunavut, says Mr. Zoe.

"This is the third government to be established in the Northwest Territories," he said.

Under the agreement, the four Dogrib communities will elect councillors and chiefs. Anyone may run and vote, but at least half the councillors and the chief must be Dogrib.

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The chiefs and some councillors will form the Tli Cho government, which will oversee the entire area.

The federal government will retain control of criminal law, and the NWT government will keep many powers over such services as health and education. Tli Cho laws will not be allowed to conflict with laws passed by other governments.

But Tli Cho will control hunting, fishing and industrial development. It will be eligible for a share of revenues 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 federal government.

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