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The Northwest Territories /ˌnɔrθˌwɛst ˈtɛrɪtɔəriːz/ (NWT or NT; French, les Territoires du Nord-Ouest, TNO) is a federal territory of Canada.


Located in northern Canada, the territory borders Canada's two other territories, Yukon to the west and Nunavut to the east, and three provinces: British Columbia to the southwest, Alberta and Saskatchewan to the south. It has a land area of 1,140,835 square kilometres (440,000 sq mi) and a population of 41,464 as of the 2006 census, an increase of 11.0% from 2001. In 1967 Yellowknife became the capital as a result of recommendations by the Carrothers Commission.


Geographical features include Great Bear Lake, the largest lake entirely within Canada, Keller Lake and Great Slave Lake, as well as the Mackenzie River and the canyons of the Nahanni National Park Reserve, a national park and UNESCO World Heritage Site. Territorial islands in the Canadian Arctic Archipelago include Banks Island, Borden Island, Prince Patrick Island, and parts of Victoria Island and Melville Island. The highest point is Mount Nirvana near the border with Yukon at an elevation of 2,773 metres (9,098 ft).


While Nunavut is mostly Arctic tundra, the Northwest Territories has a slightly warmer climate and is mostly boreal forest. About half of the territory is above the tree line.


The present-day territory was created in June 1870, when the Hudson's Bay Company transferred Rupert's Land and North-Western Territory to the government of Canada. This immense region comprised all of non-confederation Canada except British Columbia, the coast of the Great Lakes, the Saint Lawrence River valley and the southern third of Quebec, the Maritimes, Newfoundland, and the Labrador coast. It also excluded the Arctic Islands except the southern half of Baffin Island; these remained under direct British claim until 1880.[citation needed]




After the transfer, the territories were gradually whittled away. The province of Manitoba was created on 15 July 1870, a tiny square around Winnipeg, and then enlarged in 1881 to a rectangular region composing the modern province's south. By the time British Columbia joined Confederation on July 20, 1871, it had already (1866) been granted the portion of North-Western Territory south of 60 degrees north and west of 120 degrees west, an area that had comprised most of the Stikine Territory. In 1882, Regina in the District of Assiniboia became the territorial capital; after Alberta and Saskatchewan became provinces in 1905, Regina became the provincial capital of Saskatchewan.


In 1876, the District of Keewatin, at the centre of the territory, was separated from it. In 1882 and again in 1896, the remaining portion was divided into the following districts (corresponding to the following modern-day areas):


Keewatin was returned to the Northwest Territories in 1905.


In the meantime, the Province of Ontario was enlarged northwestward in 1882. Quebec was also extended northwards in 1898, and the Yukon Territory was made a separate territory in that same year in order to deal with the Klondike Gold Rush, and also to remove the NWT's government from the burden of administering the sudden boom of population, economic activity, and the influx of non-Canadians.


The provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan were created in 1905, and Manitoba, Ontario, and Quebec acquired the last of their modern territories from the NWT in 1912. This left only the districts of Mackenzie, Franklin (which absorbed the remnants of Ungava in 1920), and Keewatin. In 1925, the boundaries of the NWT were extended all the way to the North Pole on the sector principle, vastly expanding its territory onto the northern ice cap. The reduced Northwest Territories was not represented in the Canadian House of Commons from 1907 until 1947, when the electoral district of Yukon—Mackenzie River was created. This riding only included the District of Mackenzie. The rest of the Northwest Territories had no representation in the House of Commons until 1962, when the Northwest Territories electoral district was created in recognition of the Inuit having been given the right to vote in 1953.


In 1912, the Parliament of Canada made the official name of these territories the Northwest Territories, dropping all hyphenated forms of it. Between 1925 and 1999, the Northwest Territories covered a land area of 3,439,296 km2 (1,327,920 sq mi) – larger than that of India.




On April 1, 1999, the eastern three-fifths of the Northwest Territories (including all of the District of Keewatin and much of that of Mackenzie and Franklin) became a separate Canadian territory named Nunavut.


There was some discussion of changing the name of the Northwest Territories after the splitting off of Nunavut, possibly to a term from an Aboriginal language. One proposal was "Denendeh" (an Athabaskan language word meaning "our land"). This idea was advocated by the former premier Stephen Kakfwi, among others. One of the most popular proposals for a new name — one to name the territory "Bob" — began as a prank, but for a while it was at or near the top in the public-opinion polls.


In the end a poll conducted prior to division showed that strong support remained for retaining the name "Northwest Territories". This name arguably became more appropriate following division than it had been when the territories actually extended far into Canada's north-central and northeastern areas.


In Inuktitut, the Northwest Territories are referred to as ᓄᓇᑦᓯᐊᖅ (Nunatsiaq), "beautiful land."[citation needed]




The Northwest Territories reaches for over 1,300,000 square kilometres (500,000 sq mi) so there is a large climate variant from south to north. The southern part of the Territory (most of the mainland portion) has a subarctic climate while the islands and northern coast have a polar climate. Summers in the south are short but warm with daytime highs reaching on average the low 20 °C (68 °F) range, with overnight lows around 10 °C (50 °F). Winters are long and cold, with daytime highs around −20 °C (−4 °F), and lows around −30 °C (−22 °F).


Summers in the north are short and cool, with daytime highs in the mid teens, and lows in the single degrees. Winters are long and harsh, daytime highs in the mid −20 °C (−4 °F) and lows around −40 °C (−40 °F). Extremes are common with summer highs in the south reaching 36 °C (97 °F) and lows reaching into the negatives. In winter in the south it is not uncommon for the temperatures to reach the −40 °C (−40 °F)'s but can also reach the low teens during the day. In the north temperatures can reach highs of 30 °C (86 °F), and lows can reach into the low negatives.


In winter in the north it is not uncommon for the temperatures to reach the −50 °C (−58 °F) but can also reach the single digits during the day. Thunderstorms are not rare in the south, but in the north they are very rare but do occur. Tornadoes are extremely rare but have happened with the most notable one happening just outside of Yellowknife that destroyed a communications tower. The Territory has a fairly dry climate due to the mountains in the west.


About half of the territory is above the tree line. There are no trees in most of the eastern areas of the territory, or the north islands.


The NWT is one of two jurisdictions in Canada, Nunavut is the other, where Aboriginal people are in the majority with 50.3% of the population.


According to the 2006 Canadian census the 10 major ethnic groups were:


Population of the Northwest Territories since 1871


The largest denominations by number of adherents according to the 2001 census were Roman Catholic with 16,940 (46.7%); the Anglican Church of Canada with 5,510 (14.9%); and the United Church of Canada with 2,230 (6.0%), while a total of 6,465 (17.4%) people stated no religion.


French was made an official language in 1877 by the appointed government, after lengthy and bitter debate resulting from a speech from the throne in 1888 by Lieutenant Governor Joseph Royal. The members voted on more than one occasion to nullify and make English the only language used in the assembly. After some conflict with Ottawa and a decisive vote on January 19, 1892, the assembly members voted for an English-only territory.


In the early 1980s, the federal government pressured the government of the Northwest Territories to reintroduce French as an official language. Some Native members walked out of the assembly, protesting that they were not permitted to speak their own language. The executive council appointed a special committee to study the matter[citation needed], which decided that if French was to be an official language, then the other languages in the territories must also be allowed.


The Northwest Territories' Official Languages Act recognizes the following eleven official languages, which are more than in any other political division in the Americas:


NWT residents have a right to use any of the above languages in a territorial court and in debates and proceedings of the legislature. However, laws are legally binding only in their French and English versions, and the NWT government only publishes laws and other documents in the territory's other official languages when the legislature asks it to. Furthermore, access to services in any language is limited to institutions and circumstances where there is significant demand for that language or where it is reasonable to expect it given the nature of the services requested. In practical terms, English language services are universally available, and there is no guarantee that other languages, including French, will be used by any particular government service except for the courts.


The 2006 census returns showed a population of 41,464. Of the 40,680 singular responses to the census question regarding inhabitants "mother tongue", the most reported languages were the following:


There were also 320 responses of both English and a "non-official language"; 15 of both French and a "non-official language"; 45 of both English and French, and about 400 people who either did not respond to the question, or reported multiple non-official languages, or else gave some other unenumeratable response. The Northwest Territories' official languages are shown in bold.


(Figures shown are for the number of single language responses and the percentage of total single-language responses)




As of 2010 there are 33 official communities in the NWT. These range in size from Yellowknife with a population of 18,700 to Kakisa with 52 people. Governance of each community differs, some are run under various types of First Nations control, while others are designated as a city, town, village or hamlet, but most communities are municipal corporations. Yellowknife is the largest community and has the largest number of Aboriginal peoples, 4,105 (22.2%) people. However, Behchoko, with a population of 1,894, is the largest First Nations community, 1,730 (91.5%), and Inuvik with 3,484 people is the largest Inuvialuit community, 1,335 (38.9%). There is one Indian reserve in the NWT, Hay River Reserve, located on the south shore of the Hay River.




The NWT's geological resources include gold, diamonds, natural gas and petroleum. In particular, NWT diamonds are touted as an ethical alternative that allays risks of supporting conflicts by purchasing blood diamonds. However, their exploitation has raised environmental concerns, including the potential havoc that a spill from tailings ponds could cause to unspoiled wilderness areas.[citation needed]


The Northwest Territories has the highest per capita GDP of all provinces or territories in Canada, C$85,401.70 in 2006.




As a territory, the NWT has fewer rights than the provinces. During his term, Premier Kakfwi pushed to have the federal government accord more rights to the territory, including having a greater share of the returns from the territory's natural resources go to the territory. Devolution of powers to the territory was an issue in the 20th general election in 2003, and has been ever since the territory began electing members in 1881.


The commissioner of the NWT is the chief executive and is appointed by the Governor-in-Council of Canada on the recommendation of the federal Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development. The position used to be more administrative and governmental, but with the devolution of more powers to the elected assembly since 1967, the position has become symbolic. Since 1985 the commissioner no longer chairs meetings of the Executive Council (or cabinet), and the federal government has instructed commissioners to behave like a provincial lieutenant governor. Unlike lieutenant governors, the commissioner of the Northwest Territories is not a formal representative of the Queen of Canada.


Unlike provincial governments and the Yukon, the government of the Northwest Territories does not have political parties, except for the period between 1898 and 1905. It is a consensus government called the Legislative Assembly. This group is composed of one member elected from each of the nineteen constituencies. After each general election, the new parliament elects the premier and the speaker by secret ballot. Seven MLAs are also chosen as cabinet ministers, with the remainder forming the opposition. The territory's most recent general election was on October 1, 2007. The head of state for the territories is a Commissioner appointed by the federal government. The Commissioner had full governmental powers until 1980 when the territories were given greater self government. The legislature then began electing a cabinet and Government Leader later known as the Premier.


The current Legislative Assembly is the 16th and the next election will be held October 3, 2011. The Premier is Floyd Roland. The member of Parliament for Western Arctic, the riding that comprises the Northwest Territories, is Dennis Bevington (New Democratic Party). The Commissioner of the Northwest Territories is George Tuccaro and the Deputy Commissioner is Margaret Thom.


Aboriginal issues in the Northwest Territories include the fate of the Dene who, in the 1940s, were employed to carry radioactive uranium ore from the mines on Great Bear Lake. Of the thirty plus miners who worked at the Port Radium site, at least fourteen have died due to various forms of cancer. A study was done in the community of Deline, called A Village of Widows by Cindy Kenny-Gilday, which indicated that the number of people involved were too small to be able to confirm or deny a link.


There has been racial tension based on a history of violent conflict between the Dene and the Inuit, who have now taken recent steps towards reconciliation.


Land claims in the NWT culminated with the creation of the Inuit homeland of Nunavut, the result of the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement, the largest land claim in Canadian history.


Another land claims agreement with the Dogrib nation (Tåîchô) created a region within NWT called Tli Cho, between Great Bear and Great Slave Lakes, which will give the Tåîchô their own legislative bodies, taxes, resource royalties, and other affairs, though the NWT will still maintain control over such areas as health and education. This area includes two of Canada's three diamond mines at Ekati and Diavik.







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