Boreal Action is a grassroots environment and social justice group.

UNESCO World Heritage Site Delayed

The proposed Pimachiowin Aki, UNESCO, World Heritage Site, inscription has been delayed after Pikangikum First Nation, in Ontario, pulled out of the project, which would have protected 33,400 square kilometres of boreal forest and traditional territory as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, at the meeting this July in Istanbul, Turkey.

Four Manitoba First Nations have already decided to move toward designation of the proposed UNESCO WHS, on the east side of Lake Winnipeg, without Pikangikum FN. Pikangikum pulled out as a partner in the proposal just as it was up for potential inscription at a meeting, in Istanbul, this month (July 2016).

The World Heritage Committee has agreed to refer the nomination, which means the project has up to three years (and could be ready in as soon as a year) to resubmit with modifications, or additional information. Representatives of the proposal have said they will likely redraw the boundaries to exclude Pikangikum.

“I was disappointed one of our partners withdrew,” Gord Young, from Bloodvien FN,who is a partner in the Pimachiowin Aki Corp. (the group formed of east side first nations proposing the nomination), told the Free Press, on Sunday, July 17. “But it was good news that we received this morning. I was looking forward to a referral which we received.

“We are redrawing the boundary lines… we will have to review this whole project from the Manitoba side, added Young.”

The Pimachiowin Aki proposal for a 33,400 square kilometres of pristine boreal forest and Indigenous traditional territories was be inscribed on the World Heritage List of sites as a culmination of about twelves years of work.

The Boreal Forest Network and Boreal Action have been active since the early days in promoting the work of the First Nations and was the only NGO (non-governmental organization) on the original provincial Round Table set up to examine the unique environmental and cultural attributes of the east side and find ways to preserve it. The boreal has been called the lungs of the earth for its function in carbon sequestering and is home to 100s of species of migrating songbirds. The Pimachiowin Aki site is the largest tract of intact boreal forest in the world. It’s nominated under two categories as a WHS because it meets the criteria for preservation as both a natural and cultural treasure. It’s a land that holds thousands of years of Indigenous cultural practises, landmarks and sacred sites. It’s a famous Eco-touristry destination for people who want a true wilderness experience with an Indigenous guide.

Other World Heritage sites include the Great Barrier Reef in Australia; the historic centre of Vienna, Austria; Angkor in Cambodia; and Gros Morne National Park in Newfoundland and Labrador.

The remaining partners in the Pimachiowin Aki Corporation, founded in 2006, have been the Poplar River, Bloodvein, Pauingassi and Little Grand Rapids First Nations in Manitoba and the Manitoba and Ontario governments.

In May, the World Heritage committee’s advisory bodies released a draft decision recommending Pimachiowin Aki receive the nomination.

Gord Jones, Pimachiowin Aki’s project manager, said the referral has nothing to do with the provincial government’s decision to review the route of Manitoba Hydro’s Bipole III project.

Premier Brian Pallister said last month the province sent a letter to Parks Canada, which was heading the delegation to the World Heritage Committee, letting them know a hydro transmission line could be built through the area someday. However, we will continue to campaign against this possibility. A hydro line cuts a much larger corridor than a road and would never follow one due to security concerns. It would, also, jeopardize the WHS status. The road going in up the east side is for the transportation of food and supplies and access to community members to the city for services. We support the communities in their need for lower food prices and basic year round transportation.

Jones told the Free Press that he is pleased the body decided to refer the project instead of asking that the group start over. He is encouraged that as early as next year the area could be designated as a World Heritage site.

“I was inspired by how many countries spoke in favour,” he said, noting the countries included Finland and Tanzania.

“They praised it highly. They felt it should be on the list.”

Pikangikum is located 100 kilometres north of Red Lake, Ont., on the

Manitoba border.

Quotes from a Winnipeg Free Press story by Kevin Rollason

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