A vast stretch of boreal forest along the Manitoba-Ontario boundary moved one step closer to international recognition Friday, as two UNESCO advisory bodies recommended Pimachiowin Aki be deemed a world heritage site.
The federal, Manitoba and Ontario governments have put up millions of dollars over the past decade in the attempt to secure the designation for Pimachiowin Aki — an Ojibwa phrase that translates as “the land that gives life.”
The effort was dealt a setback in 2013, when the same UNESCO advisory groups said it was unclear whether the area — a relatively untouched stretch of forest half the size of New Brunswick — is unique.
The governments submitted a reworked bid with more information about the ties between the area’s indigenous inhabitants and the land, and the advisory groups have recommended the bid be given final approval at a meeting of the UNESCO world heritage committee in Turkey in July.
“The revised nomination provides much more detailed information on the cultural traditions of the Anishinaabeg, their symbiotic relationship with the landscape, and the tangible evidence of past and present interactions,” one advisory group reports states.
“In spite of being subject to significant social disturbances as a result of European colonization, such as being placed on reserves and children being separated from their families by residential schooling, the Anishinaabeg have been able to retain their traditional culture.”
UNESCO recognizes more than 900 places around the world as world heritage sites — everything from the Great Barrier Reef in Australia to Red Bay, a small former whaling community in Labrador.
Former Manitoba premier Greg Selinger has said getting the designation for Pimachiowin Aki will boost tourism and make it easier to protect the boreal forest from over-development.
UNESCO can withdraw heritage status from sites that undergo too much development, and has recently raised concerns about potential oil and gas drilling near Gros Morne National Park in Newfoundland, which was granted world heritage status in 1987.
Gord Jones, the Pimachiowin Aki project manager, said Friday a UNESCO designation would raise awareness about the importance of the boreal forest and the relationship between indigenous communities and the land.
“The recognition as a UNESCO site would provide even a higher level of recognition that this is a special place and it has been protected for the benefit of … everyone around the world.”
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