The push to have a large swath of rare boreal forest designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site has suffered a setback.
The forest, called Pimachiowin Aki, spans 33,400 sq. km. on the Manitoba/Ontario border. The forest is also home to several First Nations territories, and the Pikangikum First Nation pulled their support, said the Pimachiwin Aki Corporation Sunday.
The First Nation pulled their support because of concerns about the UNESCO evaluation reports.
As a result, the bid has been “referred”, meaning a delay of up to three years, for the group to come to a consensus.
“We are all very disappointed that we encountered these challenges at such a critical time in the nomination process, after working on this project for 12 years,” said Pimachiowin Aki Corporation spokesperson William Young from his home in Bloodvein River First Nation.
“After considerable discussion with all parties involved, we felt that we had no option but to seek a referral to give us all a chance to regroup and consider potential options for proceeding with the project.”
The group says it will continue to talk and will converse with Parks Canada and the World Heritage Advisory bodies to figure out what they’ll need to do to resubmit their application.
The group had expected the land would be designated at the World Heritage Committee session in Istanbul, Turkey this week.
With the heritage designation comes chances to apply for funding for preservation, and tourist dollars.
Now what?
1. What led up to the decision to accept a “referral”?
Pimachiowin Aki learned that Pikangikum First Nation was withdrawing its support for the project in early June this year. The Ontario community was concerned about errors in the UNESCO evaluation reports. While the evaluation reports were very supportive and positive, the Pimachiowin Aki partners agreed there was a need to correct those errors, as part of the standard nomination process.  Parks Canada, on behalf of Pimachiowin Aki, submitted those corrections.

2. Who made the decision for Pikangikum First Nation to leave the project?
This matter was decided by the Pikangikum First Nation Chief and Council.

3. What exactly does “referral” mean in UNESCO terms?
‘”Referral” is one of several different decisions the World Heritage Committee can make regarding a nomination to the World Heritage List. “Referral” means that the Committee recognizes that the nomination has ‘Outstanding Universal Value’ but has decided to send the nomination back for new or additional information before it can take a decision on inscribing the site on the UNESCO World Heritage List. A referred nomination can be resubmitted within three years for the World Heritage Committee’s consideration without undergoing a new evaluation.

4. What happens to the project now?
The Pimachiowin Aki Corporation will continue its internal discussions regarding the perspectives of the Pikangikum First Nation. Pending the outcome, Pimachiowin Aki will seek advice from Parks Canada and the UNESCO Advisory Bodies on next steps.

5. How does Manitoba’s decision to review the Manitoba Hydro’s Bipole III project factor into this?
The Bipole III review was addressed in the Factual Errors Letter that Canada submitted to the World Heritage Centre.  Information on this review may be factored into a future resubmission of the nomination, if it is relevant.

6. Who makes up the Pimachiowin Aki partnership?
The Pimachiowin Aki Corporation, founded in 2006, included the following members:  Poplar River, Bloodvein River, Pauingassi and Little Grand Rapids First Nations in Manitoba, Pikangikum First Nation in Ontario and the Manitoba and Ontario Governments. The UNESCO nomination is submitted on behalf of Canada through Parks Canada as the Government of Canada’s representative for the World Heritage Convention.