John B. Zoe was in Ottawa Tuesday night when the news broke back home that MPs had passed Bill C-14 -- the proposed Tlicho Land Claims and Self-government Act -- by a vote of 198-94 on its third and final reading.
Only Conservative MPs opposed the legislation. The bill is now on its way to the Senate for a final review.
"It's been 12 years coming," said Zoe.
"It's a big relief that's been building up for some time, especially after the spring time when it went to second reading, but fell apart because of the election."
The Act will give the Dogrib people sweeping new powers in their region of more 39,000 square kilometres of land, plus control over resources, education and health.
Western Arctic MP Ethel Blondin-Andrew credited the House of Commons committee, which was working on the bill, for getting it to a vote so quickly after it died on the order paper last May. It was then that the writ was dropped for a new election.
"It all came together. It was real teamwork," said Blondin-Andrew.
"At first we were trying to prod and push to get it ahead, but towards the end we were running to keep up with it." Blondin-Andrew said the Conservatives' opposition to the bill raises a lot of questions about where they stand on aboriginal rights.
"The Conservatives I knew supported the forerunner to this," she said.
"Brian Mulroney's Conservatives supported it. All the Conservatives I ever knew supported aboriginal rights. This brings up a whole set of questions I'm not prepared to deal with, but they'll have to deal with it."
Western Arctic Senator Nick Sibbeston said he expects the Bill to pass through the Senate by mid-February.
Sibbeston is sponsoring the Bill. He made a speech to the Senate yesterday, urging his colleagues to support it.
"It's both a land claim and self-government (agreement), so that's new for the North," said Sibbeston.
"It's significant in the scheme of things that an aboriginal group of people are going to have land -- both surface and subsurface. That's pretty significant in terms of Canada agreeing to that."
Premier Joe Handley said he was happy to hear the House of Commons had passed the bill, but said it will likely be a while yet before the territorial government begins devolving some of its powers over programming to a Tlicho government.
"The Tlicho people have chosen not to take on any more powers, I believe, generally for 10 years," said Handley.
"There's going to be a gradual, reasonable approach to it."