Prior to its division with Nunavut in 1999, the Northwest Territories constituted all of Canada north of 60° N except the Yukon and the northernmost parts of Québec and Newfoundland. Total land area was 3,293,020 sq km (1,271,438 sq mi). After the 1999 division, the territory encompassed 1.17 million sq km. The division ran along the Saskatchewan-Manitoba border through the Arctic Archipelago to the North Pole. Most of the people who live in the territories are aboriginal. The population of the new Northwest Territories in 2000 was 42,083. Over half the population is spread out among 33 communities, and the other half is located in the capital of Yellowknife.
The Mackenzie River and its tributaries, the Athabasca and Slave, provide an inland transportation route of about 2,700 km (1,700 mi). There is some traffic on Lakes Athabasca, Great Bear, and Great Slave. Most of the settlements in Mackenzie are linked by scheduled air service.
The new territory is governed by a commissioner and by a 19-member elected territorial assembly. Six ministers and a premier are elected to serve as an executive council. Following the approval by voters in April 1982 of a proposal to divide the territory, the federal government scheduled the division in 1999. The Inuit of the east called their eastern jurisdiction Nunavut; Indians of the west—where opinion on the proposal was sharply split—called their proposed division Deneden. Land claims of Dene Indians and the Inuit overlapped. Nunavut was created in 1999, and the name "Northwest Territories" for the other half of the area was to be used until such time as residents would be asked to vote on a new constitution, or the territorial assembly would be asked to vote on a new name.
Northwest Territories' mineral resources include rich deposits of gold, silver, lead, tungsten, and zinc. The Northwest Territories contain some of Canada's total mineral resources. It was the Yukon gold rush in 1897 that triggered a large migration of people northward. In one year 30,000 people from the lower parts of Canada were in the Northwest and Yukon Territories looking for gold.
Today, Canada leads in the production of oil, natural gas and coal. Canada's mining industry contributes US $20 billion annually to the economy and employs 145,000 people. In 1989 Canada's oil and gas industry was valued at US $19 billion with 55% of the revenue coming from oil production. Whitefish and trout are caught in Great Slave Lake; the 100,000 or more lakes of the territories provide an "angler's last frontier" in North America for sport fishermen. Fur production is a sizable industry in the Northwest Territories.
The territory of Nunavut, meaning "Our Land" in Inuktitut, was created on 1 April 1999, when the Northwest Territories divided in two. Nunavut encompasses 1,994,000 sq km in the eastern Arctic region of Canada. The islands in the Hudson and James Bays are included. The population in 1999 was approximately 27,500, of whom 20,500 were Inuit. Languages spoken are Inuktitut (many dialects), Inuinnaqtun, English, and French. Iqaluit is the capital and the largest community in Nunavut, with more than 4,200 residents in 1996. The territory is divided into three regions (Qikiqtaaluk, Kivalliq, and Kitikmeot) and 28 communities. Government departments and agencies are located in the various communities in a decentralized fashion. There are an elected legislative assembly, a cabinet, and a territorial court. As of 2003, the government of Nunavut was assuming the responsibilities formerly controlled by the government of the Northwest Territories for programs in culture, public housing, and health care to be completed by 2009. The territory has 21 km of roadways, none of them paved. A handicrafts industry supplies Inuit-made sculpture and prints to the Canadian Handicrafts Guild. Most of the richest and well-developed parts of the Northwest Territories were not included in Nunavut, which now relies largely on developing its mineral resources. Hunting, fishing, fur trapping, and sealing also contribute to the economy.
The Yukon Territory, located north of British Columbia and east of Alaska, has a land area of 478,970 sq km (184,931 sq mi) and had an estimated population in the mid-1990s of more than 30,000, of whom some one-fifth were of Indian origin. The principal town is Whitehorse, the capital. An all-weather roadway connects the territory with Alaska and British Columbia, and a railroad connects Whitehorse with ocean shipping at Skagway, Alaska. Air service is available to and from Edmonton, Vancouver, and Fairbanks, Alaska. There are local telephone services in the three chief towns. The territory was separately constituted in June 1898. Since 1978, the Yukon has had a legislative assembly, consisting of 16 elected members. In late 1982, the federal government gave its consent for the Yukon cabinet to call itself the Executive Council and officially to take over some powers hitherto reserved by the federally appointed commissioner, as representative of the governor-general-in-council, or by the minister of Indian affairs and northern development. The Yukon government has recently pressed for provincial status.
Mineral resources include rich deposits of gold, silver, lead, tungsten, and zinc. Mining and tourism are Yukon's principal industries.