Saturday, 11 January 2014

Northwest Territories

Northwest Territories, administrative region of Canada. The Northwest Territories is located in northwestern Canada and occupies nearly 13 percent of the country’s landmass. Two other northern territories, the Yukon Territory and the Territory of Nunavut, flank its western and eastern borders respectively. The Northwest Territories is bounded to the south by three provinces: British Columbia, Alberta, and Saskatchewan. The territory extends from the 60th parallel to the North Pole and includes several large islands located in the Arctic Ocean. Banks and Prince Patrick islands are the largest islands entirely within the boundaries of the Northwest Territories. Melville Island and Victoria Island are divided between the Northwest Territories and Nunavut.
On April 1, 1999, the Northwest Territories was split into a western part, still known as the Northwest Territories, and an eastern part, known as the Territory of Nunavut. A new name for the Northwest Territories has yet to be determined. To avoid confusion, many people now refer to the Northwest Territories as the “western” Northwest Territories. For the purpose of this article, the term Northwest Territories refers to the Northwest Territories after the 1999 split.
The Northwest Territories extends over a vast land area that consists of tundra, forest, and prairie. While large in geographic size, the territory is home to few people: In 2007 its population was 42,600. Its large geographic size and small population combine to make the territory one of the most sparsely populated areas in the world. A cold climate and permafrost (permanently frozen ground) prevent agricultural activities and make other economic activities very expensive.
The physical environment of the Northwest Territories also results in uneven population distribution, with most people living in a settlement, town, or city in the Mackenzie River valley or around Great Slave Lake. Yellowknife is the largest city and the capital of the territory. In 2006 Yellowknife had 18,700 residents, or nearly half of the population of the Northwest Territories.
The population is almost evenly split between nonindigenous Canadians and indigenous Canadians (Indian, Métis, and Inuit). Indians, also called the Dene, represent half a dozen tribes, each with a distinct language based on the Athapaskan root language. The Métis are a mixed-blood people who were originally offspring of unions between Indian women and French or British fur trappers. The Inuit are an indigenous people who inhabit the Arctic coastal regions.
The mainland of the Northwest Territories was part of British North America until 1870, when Canada obtained the Hudson’s Bay Company’s lands from the British government. In 1880 the British government transferred its claim to the islands in the Arctic Ocean (collectively known as the Arctic Archipelago) to Canada. Under Canadian jurisdiction these vast lands were named the Northwest Territories. Over time, the geographic size of the Northwest Territories diminished as some of its lands were transferred to five provinces: Alberta, Manitoba, Ontario, Québec, and Saskatchewan. The most recent geographical adjustment occurred in 1999, when Nunavut was carved out of the eastern area of the Northwest Territories.
The fur-trading history of the Northwest Territories began in the late 18th century with the arrival of European fur traders. Within 50 years, the fur traders had established a network of trading posts. Until the 1950s indigenous peoples formed the vast majority of the population, supporting themselves by hunting and trapping. While Indian, Métis, and Inuit moved about in search of game and fur-bearing animals, fur traders, missionaries, and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police lived in small settlements that were originally fur-trading posts.
In the 1950s resource development—particularly gold mining and oil production—signaled a new economic era. Infrastructure projects during World War II (1939-1945) improved the northern communications and transportation network, laying the groundwork for resource development. At the same time, the government encouraged Indians, Inuit, and Métis to move into settlements. Most chose to settle around fur-trading posts. With the vast majority of residents being indigenous, these places became known as native settlements. In the 1960s the role of the federal and territorial governments began to expand. The combination of these events resulted in three types of settlements: resource towns, native settlements, and administrative centers. Both resource companies and the government needed more skilled workers, so they encouraged southern Canadians to move to the north by creating high-paying jobs and offering extra benefits. Within two decades this northern migration created a large minority of nonindigenous Canadians in the Northwest Territories.
The Northwest Territories extends over an area of 1,346,110 sq km (519,734 sq mi), making it the second largest political unit in Canada (after Nunavut). This huge area has a rectangular shape that begins to narrow north of latitude 65° north. The extreme dimensions of the Northwest Territories are 2,089 km (1,298 mi) from north to south and 1,894 km (1,177 mi) from east to west. The region’s topography ranges from coastal plains to alpine mountains. Consequently, the range of elevations is large, beginning at sea level and rising to 2,773 m (9,098 ft) at the summit of an unnamed mountain along the Yukon border near latitude 62° north.
The Northwest Territories is characterized by long nights during the winter and long days during the summer. This phenomenon is most pronounced north of the Arctic Circle (latitude 66°30’ north). About 20 percent of the Northwest Territories lies north of the Arctic Circle. At the Arctic Circle the sun remains above the horizon for 24 hours on the summer solstice (usually June 21 or 22) and never rises above the horizon on the winter solstice (usually December 21 or 22).
A Permafrost
Permafrost is ground that remains frozen throughout the year. It is a significant feature of the physical geography of the Northwest Territories, and it has serious economic consequences. Construction firms, for example, must take special precautions in order not to disturb the frozen ground, such as building structures on wooden piles that leave a space between them and the ground. Such a measure is designed to keep the heat from buildings from reaching the frozen ground. Permafrost developed long ago when a very cold climate caused the ground to freeze to great depths. Permafrost is one reason why the Northwest Territories has a cold environment. During the summer, a thin layer of the surface known as the active layer may thaw, although the temperature of the ground beneath the active layer remains below freezing. Some scientists believe that global temperatures are rising, resulting in warmer climates. Such warming of Earth could reduce the amount of permafrost, and perhaps even eliminate it.
B Natural Regions
The Northwest Territories has a variety of natural regions. The major physiographic regions are the Interior Plains, the Cordillera, the Canadian Shield, and the Arctic Lands. The Interior Plains are flat to gently rolling plains, bordered on the west by the Cordillera and on the east by the Canadian Shield. The Interior Plains extend from the territory’s southern border to the Arctic Ocean. The plains were formed more than 500 million years ago when sediments were deposited on an ancient sea bottom. Over time, these sediments were transformed into layers of sedimentary rock. In more recent geological history (25,000 to 18,000 years ago) a great ice sheet, known as the Wisconsin Ice Sheet, covered most of Canada. Then the climate warmed, causing the ice sheet to melt. As the ice sheet melted and retreated northward, the debris contained in the ice was deposited on these sedimentary rocks, covering the surface of the plains with a thin layer of glacial deposits.
To the west of the Interior Plains lies the Cordillera, a complex region characterized by mountains, plateaus, and valleys. The Mackenzie range was formed 40 to 80 million years ago by the severe bending (folding) and faulting (breaking) of sedimentary rock that was once part of the Interior Plains. During the Wisconsin Ice Age, alpine glaciers covered the Cordillera, and the movement of the glaciers created razor-sharp peaks and ridges in these mountains. The moving glaciers also created broad U-shaped valleys.
To the east of the Interior Plains, the ancient rocks of the Canadian Shield are exposed at the Earth’s surface, resulting in a rough, rolling terrain. The Canadian Shield was formed 2.5 billion years ago as Earth’s crust solidified from a molten, or liquid, state. At the surface the Canadian Shield is a solid rock mass composed of the oldest rocks in the world. The Wisconsin Ice Sheet covered all of the Canadian Shield, and as the ice sheet slowly moved over it, the shield’s hard rock surface was gouged and scratched.
The Arctic Lands lie in the Arctic Ocean in the northern part of the Northwest Territories. Banks, Prince Patrick, and Victoria islands consist of sedimentary rocks that form a series of plains and plateaus. Victoria Island is the second largest island in Canada, while Banks Island is the fifth largest. The Wisconsin Ice Sheet covered all of Victoria Island and part of Banks and Melville islands, but it did not reach Prince Patrick Island to the north.
C Coastline
The coastline of the Northwest Territories can be divided into two parts, the mainland and the islands. The mainland coast stretches from the Yukon Territory to Nunavut for a total of 1,000 km (600 mi). The coastlines of the Arctic islands (Banks, Melville, Prince Patrick, and Victoria islands) are more than four times as long.
D Rivers and Lakes
The Mackenzie River is the only large river in the Northwest Territories, stretching over 1,800 km (1,100 mi). It has a huge drainage basin of 1,800,000 sq km (700,000 sq mi), and many of its tributaries originate in Alberta, British Columbia, and Saskatchewan. The Mackenzie’s average width is 1.6 km (1 mi), but in some stretches it becomes 5 to 6 km (3 to 4 mi) wide. For the most part, the river’s depth is 8 to 9 m (25 to 30 ft). During the short summer, the Mackenzie River is an important transportation route.
The Mackenzie River flows out of Great Slave Lake as a clear stream and is joined farther west by the muddy Liard River. The waters of these two rivers do not mix for many miles, and the different colors are noticeable from the air. The Mackenzie empties its waters into the Beaufort Sea, which is part of the Arctic Ocean. Over time, the waters of the Mackenzie River have deposited large amounts of silt and sand at the mouth of the river, forming one of the world’s largest deltas.
The Mackenzie carries a large volume of water and ranks as one of the great rivers of the world. After the Mississippi River, it is the longest river in North America. Unlike the Mississippi River, the Mackenzie River is a cold river, and its surface is frozen for at least half the year. When the river ice breaks up in the spring, floods often occur, particularly at Fort Simpson (at the confluence of the Liard and Mackenzie rivers) and at Aklavik (in the Mackenzie River delta).
The waters of two large lakes, Great Slave and Great Bear lakes, flow into the Mackenzie River. Great Bear Lake (31,790 sq km/12,270 sq mi) is the fourth largest lake in North America, while Great Slave Lake (28,570 sq km/11,030 sq mi) is the fifth largest. Both lakes are cold and deep and are frozen for at least eight months each year. Great Slave Lake is the deepest lake in North America, with depths to 610 m (2,000 ft); Great Bear Lake has a maximum depth of 410 m (1,350 ft). To the north, the Great Bear River drains Great Bear Lake and tumbles over rapids where it cuts through the Franklin Mountains, joining the Mackenzie River near the settlement of Fort Norman.
E Climate
Two major climatic zones, the arctic and subarctic, divide the Northwest Territories at the tree line into two almost equal parts. While both regions have extremely cold and long winters, the arctic climate has a shorter and cooler summer, with the average monthly temperature remaining below 10° C (50° F). The subarctic climate has a longer and warmer summer, with at least three months having average monthly temperatures exceeding 10° C. During the long, cold winter, temperatures often reach -50° C (-60° F) in both climatic zones. Arctic blizzards and whiteouts frequently punctuate the winter weather. An arctic blizzard is a fierce snowstorm with intensely cold and strong wind. Within the Arctic, “whiteout” weather conditions can occur, causing a loss of depth perception. Under these conditions, pilots have great difficulty landing an aircraft.
The arctic climate is the most northerly climate in the world. It lies north of the tree line and is associated with tundra vegetation. In these frigid lands, summer may bring only a few warm days. With such a short summer, tree growth is not possible. Precipitation is low, often less than 100 mm (4 in), and most occurs in the summer.
A subarctic climate prevails over the remainder of the Northwest Territories, particularly in the Mackenzie Valley. This climate is characterized by a much longer and warmer summer. While precipitation is low and summers are still relatively short, sufficient moisture (300 mm/12 in) and warmth make it possible for trees to grow. The subarctic climate is associated with the boreal forest, a northern coniferous forest consisting of pine, spruce, fir, and larch.
F Plants and Animals
Within the two main natural environments—the arctic and subarctic—the types of plants and animals vary sharply. The natural boundary separating these two environments is the tree line that stretches in a southeast direction from the delta of the Mackenzie River to the border with Nunavut and Saskatchewan. North of the tree line, the summers are too short to permit normal tree growth. In such a cold land environment, only tundra vegetation is able to survive. Tundra vegetation consists of dwarf shrubs, sedges, heath, and lichens (a form of primitive plant). Animals that graze on the tundra include caribou, musk-ox, lemmings, arctic ground squirrels, and arctic hares. Carnivorous animals such as polar and grizzly bears, arctic fox, and wolves also live north of the tree line. Polar bears feed on seal, and therefore they remain in the Arctic coastal areas year-round. Grizzly bears feed on a variety of plants, fish, and animals, including large animals such as caribou and small animals such as ground squirrels. Wolves, however, follow the large caribou herds that spend the summer grazing on the lush tundra vegetation and the winter grazing on shrubs, grasses, and lichens in the boreal forest.
In the Arctic Lands, the tundra vegetation gradually gives way to a barren landscape devoid of plants that is known as a polar desert. Such Arctic Lands conditions are only found in high latitudes (above latitude 70° north) and are associated with an extremely cold and dry climate. In such a hostile environment, in which rocks and gravel are exposed, only lichens can survive. Prince Patrick Island, for example, has a polar desert. Around the Arctic Lands in the Arctic Ocean, sea mammals thrive, including seals, narwhales, and walruses. Both bowhead whales and the smaller beluga whales frequent these Arctic waters.
South of the tree line, summers are wetter and warmer, permitting trees to mature. In this subarctic climate, the boreal forest flourishes due to a longer and warmer growing season than is found in the arctic environment. The main trees are black spruce, white spruce, and tamarack, with jack pine, birch, and trembling aspen appearing to the south. The boreal forest provides an ideal ecological habitat for many birds and animals, including black bears, caribou, deer, elk, moose, and wolves. Fur-bearing animals, including beaver, lynx, muskrat, and red squirrel, live in this forest environment and provided the basis for the fur trade.
Most birds found in the Northwest Territories are summer residents. More than 200 species of birds feed and nest in the territory’s vast northern water habitat. The Mackenzie River delta is a favorite nesting place for many waterfowl. White pelicans and whooping cranes, two endangered species, nest near the Alberta border (along the Slave River and in Wood Buffalo National Park, respectively). The few permanent residents, such as the snowy owl, rock ptarmigan, and raven, are adapted to the cold environment, with more feathers and more fat than southern species.
G Resources
The Northwest Territories is often thought of as a treasure house of resources, but this designation ignores the geographic realities of the cold environment. The territory has almost no agricultural land and limited areas of commercial forest. Its natural wealth lies in its nonrenewable resources, such as diamonds, gold, and oil.
Minerals are found in the Canadian Shield, and oil and gas are found in the Interior Plains and the Arctic Lands. Gold occurs in several places, but the most important commercial deposits are near Yellowknife and at the Lupin gold mine 400 km (250 mi) northwest of Yellowknife. Oil production occurs at Norman Wells, and natural gas is found near the Yukon-British Columbia border. Pipelines transport gas to British Columbia and the oil to Alberta. They are then sent to markets in southern Canada and the United States. Huge oil and gas reserves have been discovered in the Beaufort Sea and in the Mackenzie River delta, but they have not been commercially developed because of the high cost of production and of transporting oil and gas to southern markets. In 1991 a mining company announced that it had discovered diamonds just east of Great Bear Lake in the Canadian Shield. By 1998 two diamond mines were operating, with another mine expected by 2001.
There is potential for hydroelectric power in the Northwest Territories, but distance from markets hinders its development. The two hydroelectric developments at Snare River and Twin Gorge serve the population of Yellowknife and the Hay River and Fort Smith area.
Commercial fishing takes place on Great Slave Lake, but the catch is limited because the cold waters slow the growth and reproduction of lake trout, pike, and whitefish. Although the government regulates commercial fishing, it encourages subsistence fishing and hunting by indigenous peoples. As a result, fish and game provide 40 percent of the diet of most indigenous families. Fish and game also support small sportfishing and hunting industries.
H Conservation
Conservation combines two ideas: using resources wisely and protecting the environment. In the Northwest Territories the federal and territorial governments often share these responsibilities. Since the 1970s the federal government has transferred many powers to the Northwest Territories. For example, the territorial government manages forestry, renewable resources, and wildlife, while the federal government administers land, national parks, and nonrenewable resources such as oil and gas. The Northwest Territories has four national parks: Aulavik, Nahanni, Tuktut Nogait, and Wood Buffalo. In the case of Wood Buffalo National Park in the southern part of the territory, the federal government designed the park to conserve the bison while also providing game for local Indians and Métis.
The federal government is also responsible for the protection of the environment. However, the federal government has chosen to share management of the environment with indigenous groups that have reached modern land claims agreements with the government. Modern land claims involve indigenous peoples surrendering their claim to a vast territory in exchange for certain benefits, including cash and title to a portion of that vast territory.
The Northwest Territories has problems with pollution in three main forms: local, global, and relic. Local pollution, such as garbage and sewage, affects settlements and has contaminated water supplies in some communities. In global pollution, global air and ocean circulation systems carry pollutants to the north from distant industrial centers in southern Canada and the United States. Relic pollution comes from toxic materials dumped in the ground years ago that are only now causing health problems. The worst sites of relic pollution are abandoned military bases and Distant Early Warning (DEW) radar sites that the United States built during the Cold War to provide warning in case of an attack on North America. In both cases, toxic wastes were dumped into nearby lagoons and lakes.
Since these northern lands are easily harmed by development projects, including road construction and oil exploration, companies must follow strict federal regulations. The federal department of the environment is responsible for enforcing national environmental legislation, for providing oil spill response, and for assessing environmental impacts. Environmental regulations are particularly important in the Arctic, where the fragile tundra vegetation, wildlife, and permafrost are easily disturbed.
The economy of the Northwest Territories is based on nonrenewable resources. The territorial economy is small, contributing less than 1 percent to the Canadian gross domestic product (GDP) in 1996. The small size of the economy and the high cost of delivering services to the residents of the Northwest Territories means that the federal government must provide around 90 percent of the territorial government’s budget. In 1999 the Northwest Territories had a budget of C$742 million, of which the federal government provided C$690 million.
Gold was discovered near Yellowknife in the mid-1930s, marking the beginning of the development of nonrenewable resources. Oil, gold, and diamonds are exported to markets in southern Canada, the United States, and other industrial nations. Oil production accounts for 20 percent of the territory’s GDP. Indirectly, these primary industries generate another 20 percent of the GDP by paying for construction work and transportation services. This narrowly based economy is subject to cyclical swings in global demand, making it vulnerable to a boom-and-bust type of economic instability.
In sharp contrast, renewable resources play a minor role, accounting for less than 1 percent of the GDP of the Northwest Territories. Trapping, once the core of the northern economy and the primary source of cash for indigenous peoples, has become much less important. Tourism, on the other hand, is a growing service industry. In 1996 the leading commodities by value were oil, gold, sand and gravel, natural gas, silver, fish, timber, and fur. In 1998 another mineral, diamond, was added to the leading commodities produced in the Northwest Territories.
Northern Canada, including the Northwest Territories, is an expensive place to live. Housing is at least 60 percent more expensive in the north than it is in southern Canada. Food prices are also higher, by at least 20 percent. Since building materials and foodstuffs are imported from the south, the higher prices are primarily due to transportation costs. Communities far away from Yellowknife have higher costs, and communities served only by aircraft have the highest food and housing costs. For example, foodstuffs shipped by air to remote communities such as Sachs Harbour on Banks Island are 80 percent more expensive than they are in Yellowknife. To offset these high food and housing costs, wages are higher than those in southern Canada. In addition, most people live in public or staff housing, where rents are subsidized. Government employees living in remote communities receive an isolated-post allowance payment to help offset the higher cost of living.
A Employment and Labor
The labor force in the Northwest Territories is made up of about 18,000 people. This labor force is divided into three parts: primary (mainly oil production and mining), secondary (processing and construction activities), and tertiary (government and private firms providing services to the public). The largest employer is the tertiary sector (82 percent), followed by the primary (16 percent) and then the secondary sector (2 percent). The federal, territorial, and local governments employ about half of the service workers, and others are employed by private businesses such as restaurants, hotels, retail stores, and transportation firms. In 1996 the unemployment rate in the Northwest Territories was 12 percent, but this figure does not reflect wide variations by community. Lower rates occur in the larger towns and mining centers, and higher rates exist in smaller settlements, especially those inhabited mainly by indigenous peoples.
B Agriculture
Agriculture is almost nonexistent in the Northwest Territories. Except for a few small vegetable gardens south of Great Slave Lake, there is no commercial agriculture. The reason is simple: The Northwest Territories has an extremely cold environment, making agriculture extremely difficult and costly. As a result, the north is a food deficit region. Almost all food products available in northern stores are imported from southern Canada, with the main exceptions being locally caught fish and game. Indigenous families continue to consume large quantities of fish and game that they obtain by fishing and hunting. This food is known as country food.
C Fisheries
Most commercial fishing takes place on Great Slave Lake. The main commercial species are lake trout, whitefish, and pickerel; other fish caught include arctic char, arctic grayling, and northern pike. People sell these fish to the federally operated Freshwater Fish Marketing Corporation, which sells them to retail stores across Canada and the United States.
D Furs
The fur trade was once the dominant economic activity in the Northwest Territories (see Fur Trade in North America). However, fur trapping declined in the mid-20th century for a number of reasons. One major reason was the relocation of indigenous peoples into settlements in the 1950s. Since then, fewer and fewer young people have chosen trapping as a way of life, partly because they have lost the skills of their ancestors and partly because they prefer to remain in settlements, where they can find employment or receive welfare. Other factors include low and fluctuating fur prices and the actions of the antifur movement, which have had a negative effect on the fur market in America and Europe. In 1983 the number of pelts produced was 200,000; by 1997 the figure was 50,000. The total value of furs trapped has declined over the same time period, from C$3 million in 1983 to C$1.5 million in 1997. Despite this decline, fur trapping remains an important activity for indigenous peoples living in remote communities. The three top fur animals by value in 1997 were marten, wolf, and beaver.
E Forestry
The boreal forest stretches across one-third of the landmass of the Northwest Territories. In area, this forest makes up 6 percent of the forest lands of Canada, but it makes up less than 1 percent of the country’s commercial forests. The reason for this difference lies in the cold environment that turns much of the forest into scrub that is suitable only for firewood. One exception is the stands of black and white spruce that grow in the river valleys of the upper Mackenzie River and the Slave and Liard rivers. Within the valley environment, the deeper soils and warmer summer temperatures combine to produce mature stands of timber. From these stands, logs, lumber, and fuelwood are produced for local markets.
F Mining
Gold and diamond mining forms the backbone of the mineral industry in the Northwest Territories. Three gold mines are in operation: the Con and Giant mines at Yellowknife, and the isolated Lupin mine 400 km (250 mi) northeast of Yellowknife. In 1998 the value of gold production was C$53.8 million. Miners working at the Con and Giant mines live in Yellowknife; miners at the Lupin mine may also live in Yellowknife, but some live in Edmonton, Alberta, and are flown to and from the mine on a weekly basis.
Diamonds were discovered in 1991, starting one of the largest staking rushes in Canadian history. Within seven years the Broken Hill Proprietary (BHP) mining company had built two diamond mines just south of the Lupin gold mine. The value of diamond output is expected to exceed the value of gold production in the Northwest Territories.
Mining is a nonrenewable industry and subject to a boom-and-bust cycle. Eventually the mined product is exhausted, and the mine closes. In some cases the mining town is abandoned and becomes a ghost town. For example, from 1965 to 1987 Pine Point, south of Great Slave Lake, was an important lead- and zinc-mining town with a booming economy. In 1987 the mine closed, and the town was abandoned.
G Manufacturing
Very little manufacturing takes place in the Northwest Territories. Most manufacturing involves the processing of mineral ore; that is, separating gold and other valuable minerals from the mined ore. Gold is melted and poured into brick-shaped containers. The gold bricks are then shipped by air to southern buyers. A new manufacturing business—diamond cutting and polishing—began in Yellowknife in 1999.
H Services
The service sector consists of private firms and public agencies. Together they employ the largest number of workers in the territory. Both have most of their office staff in Yellowknife. Federal and territorial government agencies are also located in regional centers such as Hay River, Fort Smith, and Inuvik, and in smaller administrative centers such as Fort Simpson and Norman Wells. Government agencies employ 7,000 civil servants, teachers, and hospital workers. The private service firms employ a similar number, particularly in the personal services (such as accounting, dentistry, medicine, and real estate), retail, and restaurant businesses.
I Energy
Oil is produced at Norman Wells, located on the east bank of the Mackenzie River, and natural gas is produced in the southwest corner of the Northwest Territories. In 1997 the value of oil and natural gas production was C$235 million and C$10 million, respectively. Pipelines transport both oil and natural gas to southern Canada, where they are distributed to markets in southern Canada and the United States. Large oil and gas deposits exist in the Beaufort Sea and near the Mackenzie River delta. Because the cost of producing and transporting Beaufort oil to world markets is well above the world price for oil, these oil fields remain undeveloped.
J Transportation
The transportation system of the Northwest Territories has three main functions. The primary function is to allow people to travel between communities in the Northwest Territories and to other regions of Canada and the world. The secondary function is to export the region’s oil, gas, and minerals to southern Canada and the United States and to import equipment and supplies needed by the energy and mining industries. The third function is to ship consumer goods and foodstuffs from southern Canada to retail stores in the Northwest Territories.
Air transportation reaches all communities and isolated mining sites, and riverboats service about 80 percent of the communities, primarily those along the Mackenzie River and the Arctic coast. Highways and roads that can be used in the winter extend to more than half of the settlements, and rail transportation ends at Hay River on the south shore of Great Slave Lake. Pipelines ship oil and gas to southern destinations. Aircraft are used to transport miners to and from the isolated Lupin gold and BHP diamond mines on a weekly basis. Food, equipment, and supplies are trucked to the mine sites along a winter road that begins at Yellowknife.
K Tourism
The Northwest Territories attracts many tourists, especially in the summer. Tourists come for a variety of reasons. Hikers are attracted to Nahanni National Park Reserve in the southwest, where they can explore the wilderness. Sport fishers and hunters seek the experience of catching arctic char or hunting a polar bear. Other tourists just come to see this unique part of the world. Many tourists are fascinated by the aurora borealis (northern lights), an electric discharge in the atmosphere powered by solar wind and Earth’s magnetosphere. Japanese tourists, especially young couples, come to Yellowknife in the winter to enjoy the northern lights, which they believe will bring them good luck and increase their chances of having children.
A Population Patterns
Since World War II (1939-1945) the population of the Northwest Territories has more than doubled, reaching a total of 37,360 inhabitants, according to the 2001 national census. This represents an apparent decrease from the 1991 population of 57,649, but the 1991 figure included residents of the Territory of Nunavut. From 1991 to 1996 the population increased by 6,753, a population gain of almost 12 percent, well above Canada’s national average of 6.6 percent for that period. Since more people left the Northwest Territories than immigrated to the area during this time, the entire population growth was due to natural increase. The Northwest Territories has a high birth rate (16 births per 1,000 persons in 2006–2007) and a low death rate (3.8 deaths per 1,000 persons), resulting in a very high rate of natural increase. While the fertility rate has declined over the last decade, it remains well above the national average. Consequently, the population of the Northwest Territories is expected to continue to grow.
The population is unevenly distributed into two major population clusters. The largest cluster forms around Great Slave Lake, where about three-quarters of the people live. A secondary cluster is found in the Mackenzie Valley and accounts for nearly one-quarter of the total population. The rest of the Northwest Territories is sparsely populated, totaling fewer than 2,000 inhabitants. Almost everyone lives in one of three types of communities: administrative and service centers such as Yellowknife, resource towns such as Norman Wells, and indigenous settlements such as Aklavik.
B Principal Cities
The principal cities in the Northwest Territories are Yellowknife (population 18,700 in 2006), Hay River (3,648), and Fort Smith (2,364), all of which are located around Great Slave Lake. The major towns are Inuvik (3,484), Rae (1,552), Fort Simpson (1,216), and Tuktoyaktuk (870). Most remaining settlements are small and populated mainly by indigenous people.
C Ethnic Groups and Languages
People in the Northwest Territories have a variety of ethnic origins and speak a number of languages. However, common cultural characteristics exist. One is the widespread use of the English language, and another is the sense of being a Canadian, although tribal loyalties remain strong. These characteristics serve as cultural bonds between all residents. For historical reasons, the population is divided into indigenous and nonindigenous inhabitants. These two ethnic groups are almost evenly split, with nonindigenous residents forming slightly more than 50 percent of the population in 1996.
Indigenous peoples are divided into three groups: Indians(28 percent of the territory’s population); Inuit (10 percent); and Métis (9 percent). In Canada, Dene, meaning “people,” has become the preferred name instead of Indian. The Dene and the Métis in the Northwest Territories speak six indigenous languages (Chipewyan, Dogrib, Gwich’in, Cree, North Slavey, and South Slavey). Dene live in some 20 communities located in the forested areas of the Mackenzie Valley, Great Bear Lake, and Great Slave Lake. Within the Northwest Territories, Dene refer to their lands as Denendeh.
Another indigenous group in the Northwest Territories is the Inuit. One subgroup of the Inuit is the Inuvialuit, who speak Inuvialiktun (except for those living at Holman Island who speak Innuinaqtun). The Inuvialuit live in the communities of Aklavik, Inuvik, Sachs Harbour, Paulatuk, and Tuktoyaktuk, all located along the Arctic coast near the mouth of the Mackenzie River and on Banks and Victoria islands. Excluding Innuinaqtun, these seven languages plus English and French are the official languages of the Northwest Territories.
Some indigenous people live in cities and towns, but most reside in the much smaller indigenous settlements. Almost all of the nonindigenous people live in the major cities and resource towns. Three indigenous peoples—the Inuvialuit (1984), the Gwich’in (1992), and the Sahtu—(1994) reached a land claims agreement that identifies their lands and settlement area. Three other Dene—the Chipewyan, Dogrib, and Slavey—have yet to settle their land claims.
The land claims agreements between the Canadian government and each indigenous group have two goals: to settle the issue of land ownership and to allow the indigenous tribes to control their own affairs. Indigenous peoples have a claim to land that their ancestors occupied for hunting and trapping. The Canadian government did not recognize such claims until the mid-1970s, when several court decisions supported the claims. When the courts recognized aboriginal rights, the Canadian government began serious negotiations with those indigenous peoples who had not yet made a land settlement—that is, those who had not signed a treaty. Such negotiations typically result in comprehensive land claims agreements, which include a land settlement, a large cash payment, and a “dual” structure composed of business and environmental administrative bodies. This structure enables the indigenous beneficiaries to manage their capital and land. As a result of the Inuvialuit Final Agreement, the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation was formed to manage the settlement, which included ownership of 77,700 sq km (30,000 sq mi) of land and a cash settlement of C$55 million in 1977 dollars (equivalent to C$190 million in the late 1990s). The Inuvialuit Game Council, in cooperation with the federal and territorial governments, has the responsibility to care for the environment and wildlife.
D Religion
Most inhabitants of the Northwest Territories are Christian, although many do not attend church services on a regular basis. The two main churches are the Anglican and the Roman Catholic. Besides the Anglican Church, there are a number of other Protestant denominations in the territory. In the 19th century, missionaries converted the Dene to Christianity; the Inuit became Christians in the early part of the 20th century. In recent years a revival of spiritualism has taken place among the indigenous peoples, combining aspects of pre-Christian beliefs and Christianity.
Culture is defined as learned or acquired ideas, beliefs, and knowledge that are shared by many people. In the Northwest Territories there are two primary cultures: indigenous and Canadian. Indigenous culture comes from the nomadic hunting and fishing life of indigenous people before the arrival of Europeans. Canadian culture has its roots in western civilization, but its basic characteristics stem from Canada’s history, geography, and market economy.
During the fur trade with Europeans in the 19th century, indigenous people came into contact with missionaries, and this contact caused important changes in the indigenous culture. However, the most dramatic cultural adjustment began after indigenous peoples moved into settlements, which were typically fur-trading posts with no economic base. The first generation of people born and raised in settlements had difficulty adjusting. Sent to schools rather than to the trap lines, young boys and girls were cut off from their parents’ culture, and most were unable to find employment in their settlements. As they became more dependent on welfare in the 1960s, social problems arose, including high rates of alcoholism, family violence, and suicide. These problems continue to plague northern settlements. Indigenous languages were among the casualties of the rapid social change; as people began to speak English, indigenous languages fell into disuse. Not all changes were negative, however.
By the 1970s positive signs of cultural change appeared with the emergence of indigenous leaders. They demanded land claim settlements and a new political territory called Denendeh Territories. While the Dene leaders failed to achieve a political union of their tribes, two Dene tribes—the Gwich’in and the Sahtu—have achieved land claims agreements.
The indigenous peoples also experienced an increase in indigenous pride. Modern land claims agreements have allowed indigenous peoples to refocus their energies and their culture. One example of this is the native cultural activities, such as the Arctic Winter Games. The Arctic Winter Games feature a variety of Canadian and traditional indigenous games and sports. Traditional games are based on feats of strength and agility. The games are held every two years and bring together athletes from other northern places, including Alaska and Greenland.
A Education
The territorial government is responsible for primary, secondary, and postsecondary education. In the 1997-1998 academic year, the Department of Education had 616 teachers on staff in 48 schools. Enrollment for the 1998-1999 academic year was 9,650 students. High schools are located in Yellowknife, Hay River, Fort Smith, Inuvik, Fort Simpson, and Norman Wells. Relatively few students graduate from high school. The dropout rate is particularly high for indigenous students. One reason is that most indigenous settlements are small and do not have a high school. Another factor is that so few jobs exist in many settlements that students cannot see any purpose in completing high school. Those students who do graduate often move to regional centers such as Yellowknife, where employment prospects are better.
Prior to 1959 the Canadian government arranged for the Anglican and Roman Catholic churches to provide schooling for indigenous children. In 1959 the Canadian government became responsible for delivering education to northerners. During the 1960s the government built schools in the communities where indigenous peoples had recently settled and recruited teachers to staff these new schools. In 1969 the federal government transferred the responsibility for education to the Northwest Territories. The Northwest Territories Department of Education now administers the public, secondary, and postsecondary education programs. In addition, Aurora College, a territorial institution, provides a variety of postsecondary education classes and training programs at its Fort Smith, Inuvik, and Yellowknife campuses.
B Libraries and Museums
The towns and cities of the Northwest Territories have community libraries and local museums, and the Aurora College campuses also have libraries. The Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre in Yellowknife has the largest museum and archives in the territory. Its main collection focuses on indigenous peoples and the early history of the territory.
C Arts
Canadian artists and writers living in southern Canada have written about the Canadian north for some time, but indigenous peoples are just beginning to reexamine their art and literature. Their artistic expressions often take the form of rejuvenated traditional art, such as the dancing and singing of the Inuvialuit Drum Dancers. Others are striving to find a place in the larger Canadian art community. Sponsored by the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation, the Inuvialuit Drum Dancers perform locally, regionally, and nationally. The Great Northern Arts Festival is held each summer in the territory and features artists from throughout northern Canada.
Recreational facilities, such as school gymnasiums and outdoor playgrounds, exist in all communities. More expensive indoor facilities, such as swimming pools, are only found in larger communities. For most northerners the main recreational activities are outdoors. Canoeing, hiking, and fishing are popular summer activities, and cross-country skiing and ice fishing are two popular winter sports.
Four national parks are located in the Northwest Territories. Aulavik National Park was established in 1992 and has an area of 12,200 sq km (4,700 sq mi). Wood Buffalo National Park, which is partly in Alberta, was established in 1922; it has an area of 44,807 sq km (17,300 sq mi). Nahanni National Park, established in 1976, has an area of 4,766 sq km (1,840 sq mi), and Tuktut Nogait National Park was established in 1998, with an area of 16,300 sq km (6,300 sq mi). Both Nahanni and Wood Buffalo parks have been designated as World Heritage Sites. The east arm of Great Slave Lake has been proposed as a new national park.
The Northwest Territories has three levels of government: federal, territorial, and local. At the federal level, where national and international issues are debated, the territory has one member of Parliament in the House of Commons in Ottawa, Ontario. At the territorial level, elected representatives discuss and set policy on domestic issues in the Legislative Assembly of the Northwest Territories. This assembly has some, but not all, of the political powers assigned to Canadian provinces under the constitution. Since World War II the federal government has assigned more powers to the territorial government, including power over education, health care, housing, renewable resources, and social services. With these powers, the territorial government in Yellowknife governs inhabitants of the Northwest Territories. In 1988 discussions began regarding transferring power over nonrenewable resources to the territorial government, but this issue has not been resolved. Cities, towns, and settlements represent the local level of government.
A New Constitution
Because Nunavut became a separate territory in 1999, efforts began in the Northwest Territories to draft a new constitution that would share power between four levels of government: community, regional, indigenous, and territorial. The proposed Legislative Assembly would consist of a 14-member General Assembly, with representation by population, and an 8-member Indigenous Peoples assembly representing Indian, Métis, and Inuit inhabitants. The General Assembly would represent the interests of all residents, while the Indigenous Peoples Assembly would represent the interests of only the indigenous peoples. The powers of the Legislative Assembly would be similar to the powers of provincial legislatures, including power over nonrenewable natural resources, forestry, energy, and taxation of natural resources on public lands. Under this proposed government, passing laws would require a double majority, with a consensus on the first vote and, after due reconsideration, a two-thirds majority on a second vote.
This proposal has advantages and disadvantages. On the one hand, it would give new political power to indigenous peoples. On the other hand, by giving indigenous peoples a double vote—one for the General Assembly and one for the Indigenous Peoples Assembly—the proposal would diminish the democratic rights of nonindigenous peoples. Since the territorial government does not have the power to change its existing governmental structure, the federal government will have to agree to enact legislation to implement such a territorial constitution. However, negotiations regarding the proposal have stalled due to a lack of consensus and unresolved aboriginal demands for self-government.
B Executive
The premier of the Northwest Territories is the government leader. The executive council of the Legislative Assembly selects one of its members as the premier.
C Legislature
Before 1999 the Legislative Assembly of the Northwest Territories had 24 elected members. With the creation of Nunavut, the territory’s Legislative Assembly was reduced to 14 members. However, legal challenges to the Legislative Assembly’s new electoral boundaries resulted in the addition of 5 new members, raising the number of members to 19. These elected members have the power to make laws that affect the residents of the Northwest Territories. Before 1999 the Northwest Territories Legislative Assembly was the only jurisdiction in Canada that did not operate on a party structure; Nunavut has since adopted the same system.
D Judiciary
The territorial courts consist of a supreme court, a court of appeal, and a territorial court. The more serious criminal and civic matters go before the supreme court, while less serious disputes go to the territorial court. Territorial court rulings may be appealed to the court of appeal. There is also a small claims court. Justices of the peace are present in most communities and try violations of territorial statutes and municipal bylaws. The federal government appoints judges to the supreme court, and the territorial government selects judges and justices of the peace.
E Finances
In 1998 the budget for the Northwest Territories was C$1.2 billion. With the division of the territory in 1999, the new Northwest Territories’ budget was reduced to C$742 million. The federal government provided about 90 percent of the budget. This level of financial dependence is due to two factors. First, the government of the Northwest Territories has a small tax base. Second, the territory has limited tax powers. For example, royalties from resource development are not collected by the territorial government but by the federal government. One-third of the budget of C$742 million is used for education and health care.
F Social Services
The territorial government is responsible for social services and health care. The Department of Health and Social Services delivers these services to residents through its hospitals, nursing stations, and social services offices. Yellowknife houses the main headquarters of this government department; regional offices are located in Fort Simpson, Fort Smith, Hay River, and Inuvik.
A Early Inhabitants
The first people to come to the Northwest Territories were Paleo-Indians. The details of their origins and migration routes are unclear, but it is most likely that they came to Alaska from Asia across the land bridge known as Beringia. From Alaska, some moved southward while others moved eastward into the Northwest Territories about 9,000 years ago. By then the ice sheet that covered the land had melted and the forest vegetation had reestablished itself. These Paleo-Indians belonged to the Athapaskan language family. Some 2,500 years ago the Dene, who most likely evolved their culture from these Paleo-Indians, appeared in the Northwest Territories.
About 5,000 years ago Paleo-Eskimos came from the Bering Strait to the Arctic coast of Alaska and then into the Northwest Territories (see Native Americans of North America: Arctic). A second wave of Paleo-Eskimos, known as the Dorset culture, appeared around 3,000 years ago. These people eventually reached the Labrador coast and occupied the coastal areas of Newfoundland. These marine hunters had the technology to live in an arctic environment. About 1,000 years ago, the Thule people migrated from the Bering Strait eastward along the Arctic coast. Within 500 years the Thule people displaced the Dorset people. The Thule people originated in the coastal area of Alaska, where they developed a sophisticated marine technology, including the kayak (a small, enclosed canoe-shaped vessel designed for hunting seals and other sea mammals), the umiak (a larger boat suitable for hunting bowhead whales), and a harpoon with floats. These developments enabled the Thule to hunt sea mammals on the open water. The Thule were the ancestors of the Inuit.
B Exploration
The first European to reach the Great Slave Lake area was English explorer Samuel Hearne. Hearne was an employee of the Hudson’s Bay Company, an English corporation, and was stationed at Prince of Wales Fort at the mouth of the Churchill River in what is now Churchill, Manitoba. In 1770 the company instructed Hearne to search for the source of rich copper deposits reported near the Arctic Ocean. Chipewyans trading at the fort knew the way to the copper deposit, and in December 1770 their chief, Matonabee, took Hearne on a journey to the copper deposit on the Arctic coast. On their return, Hearne and the Chipewyans spent several months during the winter of 1771 and 1772 at Great Slave Lake, where they hunted caribou and built canoes for the journey back to Prince of Wale’s Fort.
The North West Company, based in Montréal, extended its fur-trading posts into the Mackenzie River basin in the late 18th century. Peter Pond, an American fur trader, reached the Athabasca River (in present-day Alberta) in 1778. In 1784 Pond drew a map of the Mackenzie basin using information he obtained from Indians who had come to trade with him. Using Pond’s map, Scottish-born Canadian explorer Sir Alexander Mackenzie canoed to the mouth of the Mackenzie River in 1789. Fur-trading posts were established along his route.
As a result of the fur trade, the British had a clear idea of the geography of the Mackenzie basin, but they had little knowledge of the Arctic Archipelago. The British navy began a futile search for a navigable sea route (called the Northwest Passage) along the north coast of North America, connecting the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. In 1845 British naval officer Sir John Franklin began to search for a route through the Arctic Ocean. After entering the Arctic Ocean, Captain Franklin’s ships became locked in heavy ice; he and his men disappeared. The British admiralty launched a massive search and in the process mapped most of the Canadian Archipelago.
Canadian explorer and anthropologist Vilhjalmur Stefansson made the last major explorations of the area. From 1906 to 1918 Stefansson made three expeditions into the western Arctic. He traveled to several islands in the Arctic Ocean, including Borden Island, just north of Prince Patrick Island.
C Colonial Status
As part of British North America, the region centered on the Mackenzie River was perhaps the most profitable fur-trapping area in Canada. Because of the long, cold winters, the beaver pelts were particularly thick, making them extremely valuable. The North West Company entered the region first but was soon followed by the Hudson’s Bay Company. To end bitter quarreling, the British government forced the two companies to merge in 1821 under the name Hudson’s Bay Company. Following the merger, the British government granted the company a trade monopoly in much of Canada, including the Mackenzie basin. From 1821 to 1870 the Hudson’s Bay Company encouraged the Indians to trade furs at its posts along the Mackenzie River. The main Hudson’s Bay Company trading posts in the Northwest Territories were located at Fort Smith, Fort Resolution, Fort Providence, Fort Liard, Fort Simpson, Fort Norman, and Fort Good Hope; Fort McPherson was the most northerly Hudson’s Bay Company post.
D Confederation
In 1870 the Hudson’s Bay lands became part of Canada and were renamed the Northwest Territories. In 1880 the British government transferred its claim to the Arctic Archipelago to Canada. These geopolitical changes had little impact on the people in the Canadian north. The fur trade remained the foundation of the region’s economy, and the indigenous peoples continued their traditional way of life.
Cultural change was occurring, however, not only among the Indians but also among the Mackenzie delta Inuit. Until the 1890s the Inuit had little contact with the outside world. In 1890 American whaling ships moved into Canadian waters, using Herschel Island off the Yukon coast as their wintering base. Both Alaskan and Mackenzie delta Inuit became involved with the whalers. The men hunted with the whalers while the women made clothing for the crew. By 1910, however, the market for whale products had collapsed. The arctic fox had become a valuable pelt, and the Inuit became fur trappers. A fur-trading post was established at Herschel Island in 1915 but was later abandoned for one at Aklavik in the Mackenzie delta.
In the 19th century, missionaries established churches at the fur-trading posts in the Mackenzie Valley and began converting Indians from their pagan beliefs to Christianity. With the fur trade expanding into the Arctic in the early 20th century, more Anglican and Roman Catholic priests moved into the region. Both the Anglican and Roman Catholic churches undertook the task of assimilating the Indians, Métis, and Inuit into the “white man’s world.” By the 1920s the Canadian government had helped in this assimilation process by turning over the education of Indians, Métis, and Inuit to the churches. Both churches established residential schools in the Northwest Territories.
E The 20th Century
At the beginning of the 20th century the Northwest Territories was the homeland of Indians, Métis, and Inuit. These three indigenous peoples lived on the land, hunting and trapping. By the middle of the 20th century, however, the region had become a resource hinterland. In order to extract its natural resources the Northwest Territories needed to develop a transportation system.
During World War II the threat of a Japanese invasion changed the region’s geopolitical value. In response to this threat, the American military constructed the Alaska Highway, which connects Dawson Creek, British Columbia, with Delta Junction, Alaska. The U.S. Army also built an oil pipeline that extended from Norman Wells, Northwest Territories, to Whitehorse, in the Yukon Territory, and then on to Fairbanks, Alaska. Both transportation systems were designed to secure supplies for the American military forces in Alaska, and both were built at great expense. The pipeline was later abandoned. The Northwest Territories was linked to the Yukon Territory by the Dempster Highway, which connects Inuvik and other communities in the Mackenzie delta with Dawson in the Yukon Territory. A Yukon highway connects Dawson Creek with Whitehorse, which is on the Alaska Highway. Construction of the Dempster Highway began in 1959, but it was not open to the public until 1979.
The territory developed as a resource center because of the rising demand for energy and raw materials. The Canadian north—particularly the Northwest Territories—attracted resource developers. Several gold mines had been operating since the 1930s, and in the 1970s oil companies discovered vast quantities of petroleum in the Mackenzie River basin.
Also during the 1970s, the Mackenzie Valley Pipeline Inquiry examined the potential environmental and social impacts of a proposal to transport natural gas to American markets from Prudhoe Bay along the Mackenzie Valley. The Indian Brotherhood of the Northwest Territories (later called the Dene Nation) became active in the public hearings about the pipeline.
The Indian Brotherhood also presented its case for land claims and a separate political area for the Dene, called Denendeh. In 1990 the Dene Nation and the Canadian government reached an agreement-in-principle regarding the land claims proposed on behalf of the Dene bands. Some of the bands did not support the agreement, and the idea of a Dene political area faded. In the following years two Dene bands, the Gwich’in and the Sahtu, reached separate agreements with the federal government in Ottawa.
Although the Mackenzie Valley Pipeline Project did not proceed, another energy proposal was approved in 1980. The second proposal, known as the Norman Wells Oil Expansion and Pipeline Project, allowed pipelines to transport oil from Norman Wells to North American markets. The pipeline is still in operation. In the 1990s diamonds were discovered just east of Great Bear Lake, and by 1998 two diamond mines were operating. In the course of 50 years, resource projects transformed the region’s economy from fur trading to mineral exploitation.
F Recent Developments
At the dawn of the 21st century, the Northwest Territories faced a number of challenges. These challenges included diversifying its economy, settling land claims, and deciding on a new constitution.
Economic diversification is a challenge for the Northwest Territories because geography and environment limit the territory to development of nonrenewable resources. The discovery of a vast field of diamonds has made a significant difference to the regional economy. However, the Northwest Territories remains heavily dependent on and vulnerable to world demand for its primary products. Its economy exposes the territory to boom-and-bust cycles, and economic diversification is an elusive goal.
The second challenge is settling outstanding land claims. Modern land claims began in 1984 with the Inuvialuit Final Agreement. This agreement empowered the Inuvialuit, allowing them more opportunity to chart their own destiny. The settlement was followed by two other agreements, the Gwich’in (1992) and the Sahtu (1993), representing the northern half of Denendeh. The remaining Dene land claims are in the southern half of the Northwest Territories and represent the southern half of Denendeh.
A third challenge is the choice between maintaining the existing form of government and creating a new constitution. To examine this question, indigenous leaders and members of the Legislative Assembly formed the Constitutional Development Steering Committee in 1992. In 1996 this committee recommended that political power be shared between indigenous and nonindigenous residents. By April 1999 the Northwest Territories had been divided into two parts: Nunavut, and the remainder of the Northwest Territories. Government officials in the Northwest Territories continued to debate changes to the constitution, but the issue remained unresolved in early 2006. Until a resolution is achieved, the Northwest Territories retains its current name and existing government structure.

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