Michael Nadli, who unseated cabinet minister Michael McLeod in Deh Cho with 64 per cent of votes, says his victory stemmed from a desire for change among young voters.
However, McLeod said his cabinet’s devolution agreement-in-principle, which was unpopular in the region, played a role.
"Some people kind of read things into how things happen, but for me this is about change," Nadli said.
"Mostly in Fort Providence, there’s a burgeoning youth population. They know what they want and they wanted change. It was very clear today."
McLeod visited Nadli’s home in Fort Providence late Monday night to concede and to offer his congratulations.
"You don't go in there to lose," McLeod said. "I'm satisfied that I worked hard. It was a clean campaign. Michael did similiar to what I did and he ended up with more votes than I did."
McLeod said maybe it was his pro-development stance that hurt his chances, and that "devolution certainly played a role."
Dehcho First Nations Chief Sam Gargan has said the current devolution agreement-in-principle undermines the Dehcho land claim negotiations.
McLeod told CBC last week he opposed the devolution agreement-in-principle, but was outnumbered by his fellow cabinet ministers when it came to signing the deal.
Nadli, 47, is a former Dehcho First Nations Grand Chief and the current chair and CEO of the Dehcho Land Use Planning Committee.
He said the main issues he was campaigning on were housing and balancing the need for development with the environment, and that building stronger relationships with Aboriginal governments is key to the future of the territory.
"A lot of Dene, they do not view the GNWT as their government for some reason," he said. "And we need to really have a discussion as to why is it. At the same time I think people have great concerns about housing. And at the same time there was a clear expression of the need for more jobs."
Nadli and McLeod last squared off in the 2003 N.W.T. election, when McLeod won by 13 votes. McLeod won again by acclamation in 2007.
McLeod had represented the riding since 1999. As a cabinet minister, he held the public works, transportation, and infrastructure portfolios in the 16th assembly.
His plans for the immediate future are to go moose hunting and then "get out there and see what lies in store for a slightly-used politician like me," he said with a laugh.