July 5, 2018
By Don Norman
On July 1, the UNESCO World Heritage Committee named the Pimachiowin Aki boreal forest, spanning the Manitoba–Ontario boundary, as a World Heritage Site.
Pimachiowin Aki (Ojibway for “the land that gives life”) is a partnership of four Anishinaabe First Nations (Bloodvein River, Little Grand Rapids, Pauingassi and Poplar River) and the Manitoba and Ontario governments that has worked with the government of Canada for more than a decade to achieve World Heritage status for this 29,040-sq. km expanse of boreal forest.
“We always knew that Pimachiowin Aki was special and would become a World Heritage Site, and that the challenges that delayed our previous nominations would be overcome,” said Sophia Rabliauskas, Pimachiowin Aki spokesperson, who was at the UNESCO meeting to hear the decision announced.
“But it was such a wonderful feeling to hear the words today and know that we can now devote all our efforts to preserving Pimachiowin Aki as a treasure for our peoples and the world, and I thank the governments and all the others who have supported us though every step,’ said Ms. Rabliauskas.
William Young of Bloodvein First Nation, co-chair of the Pimachiowin Aki Corporation said: “The decision today allows us to move ahead with our vision for Pimachiowin Aki as a place celebrated for its cultural and natural values, to sustain and support our heritage, and create benefits within and beyond our communities. We sincerely thank everyone who has supported this initiative, she said.
Key programs are planned to: safeguard cultural heritage; conserve and understand ecosystems and species; support sustainable economies and community-based initiatives; and, provide for monitoring and public education. An early priority is the establishment of an Indigenous Lands Guardian program for Pimachiowin Aki.
In 2002, the Pimachiowin Aki First Nations signed the Protected Areas and First Nations Resource Stewardship: A Cooperative Relationship Accord (the Accord). Through the Accord the First Nations agreed to work together to propose lands within their traditional territories as a World Heritage Site.
The governments of Ontario and Manitoba joined with the First Nations to develop a submission that led to Pimachiowin Aki’s inclusion on Canada’s Tentative List of World Heritage Sites in May 2004.
The First Nation and provincial government partners established the Pimachiowin Aki Corporation and, in 2007, commenced background studies to facilitate the development of a UNESCO World Heritage nomination dossier, while First Nations pursued the preparation of management plans for their traditional lands. The partners targeted completion of the nomination dossier in 2012.
The initial 2012 nomination was deferred by the World Heritage Committee in 2013. The Committee recommended that Canada invite a joint Advisory Mission to address ways to strengthen the nomination to better fit with World Heritage guidelines. At the time, the Committee acknowledged that although the World Heritage Convention is the sole international convention that relates to both cultural and natural heritage, it does not adequately recognize “the indissoluble bonds that exist in some places between culture and nature”.
A second nomination, submitted in 2015, was recommended by the World Heritage Advisory Bodies (ICOMOS and IUCN) for inscription during the July 2016 World Heritage Committee meeting. The nomination retained the principle that Pimachiowin Aki is an outstanding example of an indigenous cultural landscape and a boreal ecosystem. This nomination focused on the cultural tradition of Ji-ganawendamang Gidakiiminaan “keeping the land”, explaining how Anishinaabeg people have always taken care of the water, wildlife, and plant life as part of their cultural tradition. The Advisory Bodies lauded this nomination as a watershed in representing the seamless links between culture and nature, and traditional management.
However, as a result of Pikangikum First Nation’s decision to withdraw from the partnership in June 2016, this nomination could not proceed and was referred back to Canada. The First Nation cited concerns with contents of the Advisory Bodies evaluation reports. The referral was requested to give the Pimachiowin Aki partners time to assess options.
A third nomination, submitted in 2017, was required due to the removal of Pikangikum’s traditional lands from the nominated area, which reduced the size of the area by 13%.
The UNESCO bid was also a major reason for re-routing Manitoba Hydro’s Bipole III which critics said added as much as $1 Billion to the cost of the Hydro project. As late as 2016, in response to an election promise to review the the decision to run the Bipole III corridor down the west side of Lake Winnipeg, the newly elected Progressive Conservative government had sent a letter to the United Nations committee saying they weren’t ruling out the possibility of running the Hydro corridor through the area.