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OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canada's Northwest Territories will soon become responsible for managing the land within its boundaries and granting oil and gas rights under the terms of deal with the federal government that was announced on Monday.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper traveled to the territory's capital, Yellowknife, to witness the signing of a joint declaration that lays out the terms for the devolution of land and resource management from federal government to the territory.
The agreement still needs to go through a second round of consultations with aboriginal groups and other stakeholders, but the parties are working toward an effective handover date of April 1, 2014.
"Our government believes that opportunities and challenges here would be better handled by the people who understand them best," Harper said in a speech.
Because of their sparse populations, Canada's three northern territories have had a smaller say in their own affairs than the country's 10 provinces with most government responsibilities being handled by Ottawa.
Monday's agreement goes some way to adding to the responsibilities of the government of the Northwest Territories, which has a slightly bigger population than either of the other two territories: Yukon and Nunavut.
Once the agreement is implemented, the Northwest Territories will be able to collect royalties on resource development as the provinces do, but a portion would still go to Ottawa.
The Northwest Territories' extensive resources include diamonds, metals and oil and natural gas.
Reporting by Randall Palmer; Editing by Peter Galloway