06/05/2013 08:19 EDT | Updated 08/05/2013 05:12 EDT

N.W.T. assembly approves devolution deal that would gain control of public land

YELLOWKNIFE - The legislative assembly of the Northwest Territories has officially approved a devolution agreement to transfer power over public land, water and resources to Yellowknife from Ottawa.

Premier Bob McLeod calls it an historic day for the Northwest Territories.

He says the people of the N.W.T. are "ready to take charge of decisions that affect their future."

McLeod says he looks forward to signing the agreement with the Inuvialuit Regional Corp., N.W.T. Métis Nation, Sahtu Secretariat Incorp., Gwich’in tribal council, Tlicho government and Ottawa.

He says they will continue to reach out to the Dehcho First Nations and Akaitcho territory government in the hope they "will one day choose to become parties to the agreement as well.”

The two groups have not yet signed on to the deal because of unresolved land claim issues.

The target date for the transfer of responsibilities is April 1, 2014.

Previous devolutions have transferred responsibility for health care, education, social services, highways, forestry and airports.

“I am particularly proud of the process we followed in developing this agreement,” McLeod said in a news release.

“Aboriginal governments helped to draft the agreement and decided on a process for collaborating on land and resource management and I thank them for their support and leadership. This is the only devolution agreement in the N.W.T. to undergo extensive public engagement before approval, and the only one to be put to a vote by all members of the assembly."

The federal government and the aboriginal governments will undertake their own processes to approve the agreement. A date for the signing of the final agreement has not yet been set.

The deal has been criticized by members of the Lutsel K'e Dene, who feel it could threatens plans for a long-desired national park.

The federal government had promised in 2010 that a vast area on the east arm of Great Slave Lake was on its way to becoming Thaidene Nene National Park. It's a wild and wildlife-rich area the Lutsel K'e Dene consider sacred.

Steve Nitah, head negotiator for the Lutsel K'e, has said they have concern because the territorial government has not committed to respect the area and they are worried the land will be opened to prospecting and mineral claims.

Thaidene Nene is known to have deposits of uranium, gold and rare earth metals. It's also considered a prime corridor for potential hydro power exports.

The territorial government has expressed its eagerness for both resource and hydro development, though territorial Environment Minister Michael Miltenberger has said his government will follow through on the federal promise in some form.