Bob McLeod – Devolution Signing Ceremony in Inuvik, June 25,2013

Jun 26 2013

Thank you.  Minister Valcourt, Ms. Cournoyea, Mr. Alexie, Mr. Bailey, Ms. Blondin-Andrew, Chief Daniels, Ministers, MLAs  and ladies and gentlemen….

I could not be more proud and more hopeful than I am today.

This is a big day.  This is a day that will go down in history.  This is a day that will be remembered by generations to follow us.

This is a day of hope and a day for celebrating our future. Today we embark on a critical transformation – one that by the transfer date of April 1, 2014 will give all of us, the people of the Northwest Territories, the tools and authority we need to exercise our stewardship of this land, shape our future and control our destiny for ourselves, our children and our grandchildren.

I am pleased to be here in Inuvik tonight.  This is the most appropriate place for the people of the Northwest Territories to be coming together to take the next step in the history of our territory.

When Prime Minister John Diefenbaker traveled here in 1961 he spoke about nation building, about how Sir John A. MacDonald had sparked the imagination of Canadians with a vision of a greater Canada extending from sea to sea. As the first Prime Minister to travel north of the Arctic Circle, Prime Minister Diefenbaker was proud to enlarge on MacDonald’s dream with the vision of an even bigger Canada, a Canada that reached from sea to sea to sea.

He spoke of the cooperation between governments and cultures that built this town and the history that would be made here in years to come. Inuvik, he said, was “a promise made to the future of the north and its people, and to Canada.”

Tonight, we are seeing that promise come true.

When I think about the significance of today’s agreement, I do not think only of the past, of today’s place in constitutional history, of this day’s significance in the historical catalogue of important dates. When I think of today, I think of the future.

As I noted when I met with Prime Minister Harper, on the day we formally concluded our negotiations on Devolution:  This is a day of hope.

Today, I think about the future.  About our children and grandchildren who will shape our territory into something it has never before been.

We are fortunate to have a natural endowment – of minerals, of energy, of water – but more importantly, to have been endowed with such resourceful people.

Our people are what make the Northwest Territories special first and foremost.  We are an icon – a testament – to the best of Canada.  Our people are smart and enterprising….  Partnership and cooperation between our people and our governments is a way of life. Be it in our Legislative Assembly, or in our dealings with Aboriginal Governments, we operate on a basis – and according to a principle of – consensus.

Consensus – not antagonism or division or adversity.  Consensus is what gives us strength.  Diversity is what empowers us, and partnerships are what give us the tools to reach forward and bring our territory into its destiny.

It was here in Inuvik in 1970 that the Committee for Original Peoples Entitlement was formed to ensure that Inuvialuit had a voice in deciding their own future. With the signing of the Inuvialuit Final Agreement in 1984, the first comprehensive land-claim in the Northwest Territories, COPE ensured that Inuvialuit would become full participants in the economic and political life of this territory. It is an honour to share the stage tonight with one of the negotiators of that historic agreement, Chair of the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation Nellie Cournoyea.

That movement has been reflected across the Northwest Territories.  The Gwich’in signed their claim just over 21 years ago now, in 1992, with the goals of protecting Gwich’in rights around land, water and resources, preserving Gwich’in traditions and values and enabling their people to become self-sufficient and full participating members in a global society.

Less than a year later, in 1993, the Sahtu Dene and Metis signed their own claim which sought to recognize and encourage a way of life based on the cultural and economic relationship with the land and ensure self-sufficiency and economic participation for their people. In 2003, the Tlicho signed the first combined land, resources and self-government agreement in the Northwest Territories. In 2012, the NWT Metis Nation signed a lands and resources agreement-in-principle and continue to work towards a final agreement that will secure the rights of their members.

Self-determination, economic participation and a voice in decision-making have been important features of each of these agreements and are critical features in the Devolution agreement we sign today. Devolution will extend and enhance the ability of the Government of the Northwest Territories and regional Aboriginal governments to serve the interests of their people and of the whole territory. Together, we will be able to create a strong and prosperous territory for all our residents.

Such shared responsibility is unique in Canada, but is a fundamental part of our identity and a fundamental part of this Devolution agreement. It took the participation and cooperation of Aboriginal governments to help forge this agreement and we will need them to help successfully implement it. This agreement will serve to further bolster the government-to-government relationships that we have and give the Government of the Northwest Territories and Aboriginal governments new opportunities for working together in the best interests of all our residents. With new authorities to make decisions about public lands and resources and new revenues for the public and Aboriginal governments, we will finally be in a position to achieve our true potential as a territory and fulfill our responsibilities as stewards of this land.

We are a small territory in population, fewer than 50,000 people.  But we have immense wealth potential.  We have oil.  We have gas.  We have rare earth metals.  We have gold, silver and diamonds. We have hydro potential to rival James Bay. The Northwest Territories is a storehouse of the resources that the developed and developing world is seeking, as we move further into the Twenty-First Century.

As our governments sign today’s Devolution agreement with the Government of Canada, we are entering the modern age.  We are bringing to the people of the Northwest Territories the same possibilities that our southern neighbours have enjoyed for decades, for a century or more.  We will be in a position to channel the natural wealth – and the dividends and royalties that come from it – to the needs and priorities of our public, responsibly and sustainably.

This is no small feat. We have significant challenges:  a vast landmass, small communities separated by great distances, a cold and long winter, and few economies of scale.  We know this.  But we also know that we can thrive if given a chance to stand fully on our own two feet, with the resources and revenues that are due to us.

The Nineteenth Century in Canada belonged largely to Central Canada:  the “the Canadas” – Upper and Lower Canada, Ontario and Quebec.  That was the heartland.  The Twentieth Century was a century of extension and growth, with the latter half shifting its wealth and attention to the West – the frontier of rugged ambition and ingenuity.

Today, I have no doubt whatsoever that the Twenty First Century belongs to the North.

We are increasingly the centre of resource development – the storehouse of what the world wants and needs.  We are the stewards of a great expanse of Canada’s landmass.  We are on the front lines of climate change – we see it first, before the scientists and satellites and statisticians.  We are also the preserve of traditional knowledge – of the wisdom of centuries of people who know, who understand how to manage a society and an economy in a sustainable and mutually respectful way. We will undertake balance resource development to create jobs and protect the environment.

We in the North have always been about partnership.  It is in this vein that I thank Minister Valcourt for his partnership today and the Aboriginal governments that have joined with us, the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation, the NWT Metis Nation, the Sahtu Secretariat, Gwich’in Tribal Council and Tlicho Government.  In that spirit of partnership, we look forward to welcoming federal staff who will be transferring to our government under Devolution, bringing their knowledge, skills and commitment with them.

I also thank Prime Minister Harper for his ongoing commitment to the North. He has demonstrated that through his support through the Inuvik to Tuktoyaktuk Highway, a project that is the next step toward the completion of the Mackenzie Valley Highway and unlocking the resource potential in this region and the Central Mackenzie. The Prime Minister’s commitment to the North was also reflected in his personal willingness to finalize devolution negotiations, allowing us to arrive at this monumental moment.

We have not reached this moment on our own. This is an agreement formed and shaped by many hands. We have built on the work of the Intergovernmental Forum and the Aboriginal Summit. We have benefited from the leadership and initiative shown by former Premier Roland and former Federal Minister John Duncan in finalizing the Agreement-in-Principle in 2011. That we are here today is testament to the commitment and dedication of all the people who have pursued this dream, people who, to echo the words of Prime Minister Diefenbaker, made a promise to the future of the North.

I want to thank all those people who went before us, and all those people who stood beside us and worked in partnership to make that promise a reality. Our work is not done yet. There is plenty to do to prepare for the transfer of authorities next April. We will take on that challenge in the spirit of partnership and consensus that got us here and continue to work with the Dehcho First Nations and Akaitcho Territory Government to expand that partnership. The agreement we are signing today will propel us into our future – a future we will control, in partnership and respect.  A future that will be successful and prosperous for all our people.