DEVOLUTION IN THE NORTHWEST TERRITORIES:
PROGRESS OR POISON?
When the Northwest Territories achieved devolution of lands and resources from Ottawa in April, it was a historic moment
in Canada’s political evolution. But a key test of devolution’s nation-building potential will be how well it supports real
aboriginal-government partnership. On that score, there is cause for concern.
On the first day of April, the citizens of Canada’s Northwest Territories (NWT) collectively took
control over the land beneath their feet for the first time in their nearly 150-year history.
Previously, federal ministers in Ottawa had the final say on land use and resource development
there. Now territorial ministers in Yellowknife do. No less important, the NWT now shares with
Ottawa the considerable royalties yielded by its natural wealth—oil, diamonds, rare earths,
tungsten, base metals and more.
With this ‘devolution’ of control, the NWT took a historic step in its political evolution within
Canada. Although still a territory created and limited by federal statute, the NWT assumed
powers typically reserved for provinces, which share in the Canadian Crown. As significant as it
was locally, NWT devolution was also a nation-building event – and a sequel to Yukon
devolution in 2003.
Dr. Anthony Speca is a former senior policy official with the Government of Nunavut. He now
consults on Arctic issues as Managing Principal of Polar Aspect. Follow him at