A Dene band in the Northwest Territories has taken a big step toward self-government by signing an agreement in principle to take over areas such as education and social services.

Deline band leaders signed the agreement on the weekend at a ceremony that began with children singing O Canada in the Slavi language.

Chief Raymond Tutcho called it a "great day" for his people and said the agreement will help "improve the lives of the people of Deline."

The community of about 650 people is nestled on the shores of the Great Bear Lake, about 500 kilometres northwest of Yellowknife.

About 90 per cent of Deline's population are of aboriginal descent, primarily Dene, and it has a small population of Mtis and non-aboriginal people.

The agreement, building on the Sahtu Dene and Mtis Comprehensive Land Claim Agreement signed in 1998, gives the community law-making powers in several areas, including education, health, social services, justice, language and culture.