The Division of NWT and Nunavut

Not so long ago, the non-Indigenous settler government used “Northwest Territories” to describe most of what today is called Canada. The territory’s history has been shaped partly by the continual creation of other provinces and territories. The last division occurred in 1999 when the new Inuit-run territory of Nunavut was separated from the NWT. There was significant attention focused on the creation of Nunavut as a territorial homeland for the Inuit of the eastern arctic within the Canadian governmental framework. However, the Northwest Territories was also “new” in a sense, with new demographics, a new economy, and a new future.

In 1973, the Inuit Tapirisat of Canada (ITC) began investigating Inuit land use and occupancy of the North, which revealed the extent of their Indigenous title. This study formed the Nunavut Territory’s geographical basis and included the NWT’s Beaufort Delta area. A long negotiation process over borders and shared use of space allowed all negotiating groups to identify and quantify the land their families had inhabited for generations. The Dene proposed the creation of an area known as Denedeh; the Inuit sought Nunavut.

The negotiations were long and challenging. In 1993, after the NWT voted 56% in favour of division, the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement Act and the Nunavut Act were adopted by Parliament and received Royal Assent. Discussions on how to divide up not only land but government programming, employees, and assets took many years and changed how the Government of the Northwest Territories and the Legislative Assembly operated.

NWT citizens began to consider the effects of change on their communities and even the territory’s name. A government survey sought public input on a new name. An anonymous internet site suggested “Bob” be included on a list of names, and the public surprisingly got behind the joke. However, most residents voted to keep the name “Northwest Territories.”

On April 1, 1999, two new Territories were officially created within Canada: Nunavut and the newly reimagined Northwest Territories.