World Heritage Site in Canada Proposed by Four First Nations

WINNIPEG, Manitoba, February 15, 2007 (ENS) - Four First Nations and the governments of Manitoba and Ontario have established a non-profit corporation as part of their goal to achieve international recognition as a UNESCO World Heritage Site for lands east of Lake Winnipeg in Manitoba and in northwestern Ontario.

The area under consideration covers about 42,000 square kilometers (16,216 square miles) and would be called the Pimachiowin-Aki World Heritage Site.

It includes the traditional territories of the Poplar River, Little Grand Rapids, Paunigassi and Pikangikum First Nations and includes Atikaki Provincial Park in Manitoba and Woodland Caribou Provincial Park in Ontario.

"The area would be protected as an Anishinabe cultural landscape," said Chief Russell Lambert from Poplar River First Nation on behalf of the four First Nations.

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Chief Russell Lambert of the Poplar River Nation confers with Cathy Wilkinson, director of the Canadian Boreal Initiative. (Photo courtesy CBI)
"This will ensure that the Anishinabe who live there benefit from sustainable economic activities that support their survival as a people, increase their well-being and maintain the ecological health of the land," he said.

Manitoba Conservation Minister Stan Struthers said the province will provide C$130,000 to support efforts to gain recognition for the Pimachiowin-Aki World Heritage Site.

"I am excited about the work of this partnership and appreciate the strong First Nations leadership. Gaining international recognition for this globally significant boreal forest will also generate jobs, tourism and suitable developments that will help all Canadians enjoy this area," said Struthers.

"This is a precedent-setting agreement to work for the designation of an internationally important boreal area as a World Heritage Site," said Ontario Natural Resources Minister David Ramsay.

"It will bring both economic benefits to remote First Nation communities and ensure the environmental protection of a tremendously valuable ecosystem," Ramsay said.

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The Bloodvein River runs through Manitoba's Atikaki Provincial Park (Photo courtesy Government of Manitoba)
The project has generated international interest because the site would fill an identified gap in the World Heritage Site system of protected areas, and because it proposes an innovative approach to land management that combines traditional Anishinabe and western scientific knowledge.

The site combines natural and cultural features.

It has extensive undisturbed forests, lakes, and wetlands that reflect unique geological processes and represent critical habitat for threatened or endangered species such as woodland caribou, bald eagles and wolverines.

The site also represents an outstanding example of traditional Aboriginal life based on a close and enduring relationship to the land. Archeological evidence in the area attests to over 6,000 years of habitation by the Anishinabe people.

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Petroglyph in Ontario's Woodland Caribou Provincial Park (Photo courtesy Tourism Red Lake)
The nomination process will take three to five years to complete. It will produce community based land use plans, a network of linked protected areas and an innovative management system that combines western and indigenous knowledge.

If this nomination is successful, Pimachiowin-Aki would be one of only a handful of sites on the World Heritage List that are recognized for both outstanding cultural and natural heritage values.

"This is an area of significant cultural and natural value," said Struthers. "It is a living cultural landscape for First Nations people who have lived there for thousands of years. It also has a wealth of forests, lakes and habitat for threatened and endangered species such as the woodland caribou and we support every effort to have UNESCO recognize the site."

The UNESCO World Heritage List was established through an international effort to identify and protect sites of universally outstanding value so that they would survive for the benefit of all humanity.