Still determined to save their land and culture, the Pimachiowin Aki Corporation hand-delivered a revised nomination for the proposed Pimachiowin Aki World Heritage Site to the headquarters of UNESCO in Paris, France at the end of January for review by a team of international experts. The submission has been refined after UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee (WHC) deferred making any decision on inscribing the 33,400 square kilometres of Anishinaabe cultural landscape and boreal forest in 2013. Since then, the WHC’s expert advisors have worked with the Pimachiowin Aki Corporation, sending missions from the WHC to the area to help strengthen the submission and improve its own evaluation processes for unique projects like Pimachiowin Aki.
The revised 4,000 page submission is a joint effort between the Manitoba and Ontario governments and the five Anishnaabe First Nations of Poplar River, Pikangikum, Little Grand Rapids, Pauingassi, and Bloodvein River. “UNESCO told us in 2013 that they didn’t adequately recognize the bonds that exist in some places between culture and nature,” said William Young of the Bloodvein First Nation, spokesperson for the for the Pimachiowin Aki. “We appreciated the opportunity to explain to them even more clearly the special relationship our people have with the land for generations in this deeper nomination. Our belief is that a World Heritage Site can help protect the boreal forest and our culture is as strong as ever.”
Pimachiowin Aki’s submission contends that the area is both a powerful Aboriginal cultural landscape and a great natural wonder. Of the 1,007 World Heritage Sites recognized by UNESCO, only three percent carry the dual designation of being both a natural and cultural heritage site, making them more complex proposals for the WHC to assess. Pimachiowin Aki, which is Ojibway for the “land that gives life” would be the first of its kind in Canada.
Manitoba premier Greg Selinger described the area as “a rare combination of ecological integrity and cultural continuity in the largest protected area of its kind in the world,” noting that the UNESCO committee sent missions to the area to help re-draft the proposal, “which indicates that they believe it has merit.” “I’m confident UNESCO will look favourably upon this application,” said the premier. The Manitoba and Ontario governments have poured millions of dollars into the bid, with Manitoba putting up the lion’s share of $8 million in funding, spending $320,000 to rework the bid following its rejection in 2013.
Selinger said the money is worth it, as the special designation will give the area worldwide recognition, encourage ecotourism, and protect the land from development. The land, on the east side of lake Winnipeg extending into northwestern Ontario is a relatively untouched stretch of remote boreal forest that is home to the five First Nations whose people continue to practice traditional land use. “It’s an investment for all time, for the citizens of the world and, in particular, an investment in our partners, the First Nations on the east side that are looking after the land and have for generations,” said the premier.