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Keeping the Land: Pimachiowin Aki is one step closer to recognition as a World Heritage Site in Ontario and Manitoba

Pimachiowin Aki, meaning “the Land that Gives Life,” is a vast swath of boreal forest that covers 33,400 square kilometres of land and water spread across eastern Manitoba and Pimachiowin Aki Nominated Areanorthwestern Ontario. It is one of the only remaining large fragments of ecologically intact forest within North America’s southern boreal shield. As a cultural landscape, it represents millennia of inhabitation, use and stewardship by Anishinaabeg First Nations. Pimachiowin Aki also embodies the cultural tradition of Ji-ganawendamang Gidakiiminaan, or “Keeping the Land,” a sacred responsibility to ensure that the land is cared for and respected.

In 2002, five Anishinaabeg First Nations (Bloodvein River, Little Grand Rapids, Pauingassi, Pikangikum and Poplar River) along with the Governments of Ontario and Manitoba, embarked on an initiative to achieve international recognition of Pimachiowin Aki as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The nominated area supports an incredible diversity of plant and animal life, including species like woodland caribou, moose, wolf, wolverine and loon. Pimachiowin Aki includes Atikaki Provincial Park in Manitoba, Woodland Caribou Provincial Park and Eagle Snowshoe Conservation Reserve in Ontario, and protected areas established in First Nation planning areas (see of the ECO’s 2010/2011 Annual Report). The site is the largest protected-area network in the North American boreal shield, and activities such as commercial forestry, mining and hydroelectric development are prohibited within its boundaries.

UNESCO has recognized over 1,000 sites worldwide on the basis of cultural and natural significance. Inscribed sites are recognized and protected internationally under the Convention concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage. To be designated as a World Heritage Site, sites must be of “outstanding universal value,” and meet at least one of ten criteria.

On May 27, 2016, two advisory bodies, the International Union for Conservation of Nature and the International Commission on Monuments and Sites, that the site be inscribed on the World Heritage List. The UNESCO World Heritage Committee will announce its decision in July at its meeting in Turkey. If approved, this would be the second UNESCO World Heritage Site in Ontario, and would join the four UNESCO recognized Biosphere Reserves in Ontario. It would also be the first World Heritage Site in Canada to be recognized for both cultural and natural heritage value.

The ECO congratulates the Pimachiowin Aki partners on this significant milestone. International recognition of the importance of the boreal forest and the role of indigenous communities in shaping and caring for the land is long overdue. Enhancing the conservation of protected areas will also help support Ontario’s climate resilience and the conservation of our biodiversity for years to come.

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