The province of Manitoba has approved First Nations' land management plans for two large areas that are part of a proposed UNESCO World Heritage Site that will be the largest protected area of boreal shield in North America.
The proposed Pimachiowin Aki heritage site is a 43,000 square-kilometre stretch of land straddling the border of Manitoba and Ontario. An application for the designation was submitted to UNESCO in Paris in January 2012 in a dossier of over 4,000 pages of material.
The latest development is the announcement on January 14 that approval had been given to the land management plans of the Little Grand Rapids and Pauingassi First Nations that lie within the proposed heritage site. The plans have been formulated under the guidance of Anishinaabe Elders, whose ancestors have lived on the land for thousands of years.
The Pauingassi First Nation planning area is just over 3,100 square kilometres (1,200 square miles). Approximately 5% of the area is designated as open to commercial development, 8% allows for limited development, and the remaining 87% is fully protected.
The Little Grand Rapids planning area covers more than 4,700 square kilometres and allows for about 11% of the area to be for commercial development. The remaining 89% of boreal forest, rivers and waterways will be protected with only limited development allowed.
The inscription on the UNESCO World Heritage List is being sought on two criteria. First on the basis of its natural value, "the proposed site fills an identified gap in the world heritage site system within the boreal shield. It has exceptional ecological value with extensive undisturbed forests, lakes and wetlands that reflect unique geological processes and represents critical habitat for several species including woodland caribou, bald eagles and wolverines."
Second, from a cultural perspective, the land "is also an outstanding example of traditional Aboriginal life based on a close and enduring relationship to the land. Archaeological evidence in the area attests to over 6,000 years of habitation by the Anishinaabe."
As groundwork for the heritage site, in 2008 Ontario and Manitoba created the first interprovincial wilderness and then passed laws to enable the First Nations to develop and implement land management plans for their ancestral lands within the site. In 2010 Manitoba passed the Pimachiowin Aki World Heritage Fund Act to make funds available to protect and preserve the natural and cultural values of the area into perpetuity.
Joe Owen of the Piauingassi First Nation said when the January 14 announcement was made: "Our communities along the east side of Lake Winnipeg know that our elders had many traditional practices that protected the land for the next generation, because they knew our lives were directly tied to the land. Land-use plans complement those traditional practices in a modern setting.
Mat Jacobson of the Pew Environment Group said: "As Canadian governments seek more productive ways to work with Aboriginal peoples to grow northern economies while protecting ecological treasures like the boreal forest — the world's largest intact ecosystem — they can look to Manitoba's Pimachiowin Aki partnerships for guidance."
Canada has nine world heritage sites recognized for their natural value currently, and six recognized for their cultural value. If successful, Pimachiowin Aki will be Canada's first world heritage site recognized for both natural and cultural values.
For more information on the Pimachiowin Aki project, click here.