Search for "Northwest Territories"

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Geography of the Northwest Territories

The Northwest Territories includes three main geographic regions: the Arctic Archipelago to the north, the arctic mainland and the Mackenzie Valley area. The arctic mainland, sometimes referred to as the Barren Lands, lies northeast of the treeline, and the Mackenzie Valley area to the west. The geography of the Northwest Territories may also be thought of in terms of Canada’s seven physiographic regions. The territories include four of these regions, namely the Cordillera, the Interior Plains, the Canadian Shield and the Arctic Lands.

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NWT Premiere Calls for Investment in Arctic Ports

Speaking at the Pacific NorthWest Economic Region summit in Saskatoon, Northwest Territories Premier Bob McLeod called for the development of three ports in the territory and more icebreakers to support increased shipping traffic in the rapidly warming Arctic. “It’s getting harder to resupply our communities,” he said. “We rely a lot on ice roads. Their life span is getting shorter and shorter… It’s very timely now to do some strategic investing and planning.” McLeod also called for a stronger military presence in the Arctic, an increase in immigrants to the region and more investment in research facilities. (See also: Canadian Arctic Sovereignty.)

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Tuktoyaktuk

Tuktoyaktuk, NWT, incorporated as a hamlet in 1970, population 898 (2016 census), 854 (2011 census). The Hamlet of Tuktoyaktuk is located on the coast of the Beaufort Sea, east of the Mackenzie River delta, and 1,135 km northwest of Yellowknife by air. Tuktoyaktuk, commonly referred to as Tuk, is a transportation and government centre, as well as a base for oil and natural gas exploration.

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Yellowknife

Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, incorporated as a city in 1970, population 19,569 (2016 census), 19,234 (2011 census). The city of Yellowknife is the capital of the Northwest Territories and the territory's only city. It sits on the Canadian Shield, on the north shore of Great Slave Lake, and about 400 km south of the Arctic Circle. Due to its northerly location, Yellowknife is the Canadian city with the most hours of summer sunshine, averaging 1,030 hours per year. The city and Yellowknife Bay were named after the Yellowknives, a Dene band who lived on the islands of Great Slave's East Arm and travelled as far north as the Arctic coast to obtain copper for knives and other implements. They, in turn, acquired their name from the copper-bladed knives they carried.

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Nellie J. Cournoyea

Nellie J. Cournoyea, OC, politician, premier of the Northwest Territories 1991–95 (born on 4 March 1940 in Aklavik, NT). Cournoyea is the first Indigenous woman to lead a provincial or territorial government in Canada.

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Tsiigehtchic

Tsiigehtchic, Northwest Territories, population 187 (2019). Tsiigehtchic is located at the confluence of the  Mackenzie and Arctic Red rivers. It is home to the Gwichya Gwich’in First Nation (“people of the flat lands”) who speak an Athapaskan language (see Indigenous Languages in Canada). Formerly known as Arctic Red River, the community’s name was changed to Tsiigehtchic (“at the mouth of iron river”) in 1994. The community is on the Dempster Highway. It is accessible by summer ferry across the Mackenzie River and in winter by ice road. Tsiigehtchic is one of four communities in the Gwich’in Settlement Region. The region is an area created by the Gwich’in Comprehensive Land Claim Agreement (1992). The other three communities in the region are AklavikFort McPherson and Inuvik. (See also Dinjii Zhuh (Gwich'in).)

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Fort McPherson

Fort McPherson, Northwest Territories, population 741 (2020). The hamlet of Fort McPherson is located on the right bank of the Peel River, on the Dempster Highway. It is west of the Mackenzie River and east of the Richardson Mountains. Fort McPherson is called Teetł’it Zheh (“head of the waters-town”) in Gwich’in, an Athapaskan language (see Indigenous Languages in Canada). The hamlet is home to the Teetł’it Gwich’in First Nation (“people of the headwaters”). Fort McPherson is one of four communities in the Gwich’in Settlement Region. The region is an area created by the Gwich’in Comprehensive Land Claim Agreement (1992). The other three communities in the region are Aklavik, Tsiigehtchic and Inuvik.

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Norman Wells

Norman Wells, Northwest Territories, incorporated as a town in 1992, population 778 (2016 census), 727 (2011 census). The town of Norman Wells is located on the north bank of the Mackenzie River, 145 km south of the Arctic Circle and 684 km northwest of Yellowknife by air. It was the first settlement in the Northwest Territories founded entirely as a result of non-renewable-resource development. The name owes to the site’s close proximity to Fort Norman (now Tulita), 85 km upstream on the Mackenzie.

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Reserves in the Northwest Territories

There are two reserves in the Northwest Territories. In addition, of the territory’s remaining 32 communities, 28 have a majority Indigenous population. Dene, Inuvialuit and Métis people are the primary Indigenous groups living in these communities. The territory’s two reserves are Hay River Dene 1, held by the Kátł’odeeche First Nation, and Salt River No. 195, held by the Salt River First Nation. The Northwest Territories differs from much of southern Canada, where several provinces have hundreds of reserves, and where large percentages of First Nations people live in these communities. While Treaty 8 and Treaty 11 — which taken together cover most of the territory — provided for reserves, none were created in the years immediately following their signing. The reasons for the limited number of reserves in such a large region are rooted in a complicated history.

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Inuit

Inuit — Inuktitut for “the people” — are an Indigenous people, the majority of whom inhabit the northern regions of Canada. An Inuit person is known as an Inuk. The Inuit homeland is known as Inuit Nunangat, which refers to the land, water and ice contained in the Arctic region.

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Nunavut

Nunavut, or “Our Land” in Inuktitut, encompasses over 2 million km2 and has a population of 35,944 residents (2016 census), approximately 85 per cent of whom are Inuit. Covering roughly the part of the Canadian mainland and Arctic Archipelago that lies to the north and northeast of the treeline, Nunavut is the largest and northernmost territory of Canada and the fifth largest administrative division in the world. Nunavummiut live in 25 communities spread across this vast territory, with the largest number, 7,740 (2016 census), in the capital, Iqaluit. The creation of Nunavut in 1999 (the region was previously part of the Northwest Territories) represented the first major change to the political map of Canada since the incorporation of Newfoundland into Confederation in 1949. Beyond changing the internal political boundaries of Canada, Nunavut’s formation represented a moment of great political significance; through political activism and long-term negotiations, a small, marginalized Indigenous group overcame many obstacles to peacefully establish a government that they controlled within the Canadian state, thereby gaining control of their land, their resources and their future. As such, the creation of Nunavut represents a landmark moment in the evolution of Canada and a significant development in the history of the world’s Indigenous peoples.

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North-West Mounted Police

The North-West Mounted Police (NWMP) was the forerunner of Canada's iconic Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Created after Confederation to police the frontier territories of the Canadian West, the NWMP ended the whiskey trade on the southern prairies and the violence that came with it, helped the federal government suppress the North-West Rebellion, and brought order to the Klondike Gold Rush. The NWMP pioneered the enforcement of federal law in the West, and the Arctic, from 1873 until 1920.

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Transportation in the North

Inuit and subarctic Indigenous peoples have traversed the North since time immemorial. Indigenous knowledge and modes of transportation helped early European explorers and traders travel and survive on these expanses. Later settlement depended to an extraordinary degree on the development of transportation systems. Today, the transportation connections of northern communities vary from place to place. While the most remote settlements are often only accessible by air, some have road, rail and marine connections. These are often tied to industrial projects such as mines.

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Canadian Arctic Sovereignty

Arctic sovereignty is a key part of Canada’s history and future. The country has 162,000 km of Arctic coastline. Forty per cent of Canada’s landmass is in its three northern territories. Sovereignty over the area has become a national priority for Canadian governments in the 21st century. There has been growing international interest in the Arctic due to resource development, climate change, control of the Northwest Passage and access to transportation routes. As Prime Minister Stephen Harper said in 2008, “The geopolitical importance of the Arctic and Canada’s interests in it have never been greater.”

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Territorial Government in Canada

Under Canada’s federal system, the powers of government are shared between the federal government, provincial governments and territorial governments. The territories — Northwest Territories, Nunavut and Yukon — are governed by their respective governments. They receive their legislative authority (the ability to create laws) from the federal government. Ottawa has given territorial governments authority over public education, health and social services; as well as the administration of justice and municipal government. More and more of these powers have been handed down from the federal government in a process called devolution. Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada is the federal ministry responsible for the territories.