Over 3.3 million hectares of boreal forest straddling the Ontario-Manitoba boundary could be designated a world heritage site by the United Nations in July.
The proposed Pimachiowin Aski site encompasses land surrounding Pikangikum First Nation and stretches as far west as Lake Winnipeg.
The recognition would represent “a very important boreal cultural landscape,” project co-ordinator Gord Jones told CBC News. “The people and the boreal forest, and it’s representing this kind of place as an outstanding example in North America.”
The world heritage list’s web site notes that for something to be designated a heritage site, it “must be of outstanding universal value,” and meet one of 10 criteria.
“For the communities, it`s a way to recognize the Anishinaabe culture and the importance of continuing to support culture in the future,” Jones said, adding that recognition would honour aspects like traditional language retention, and protection of the forest.
Efforts to get the boreal forest recognized date back about 10 years, Jones said, when Pikangikum, along with four First Nations communities in Manitoba joined with the two provincial governments.
That led to a submission to the U.N. world heritage committee in 2013, which was deferred, Jones said.
“The committee was very interested in the project and encouraged the partners to keep at it.”
This time, Jones said advisors to the heritage committee that evaluate nominations have recommended the site be inscribed.
Designation could bring tourism, research
Among the benefits to the designation would be the potential to attract “eco and cultural tourism,” along with research opportunities, Jones said.
Developing the harvesting and production of non-timber forest products — like wild rice, plants for tea, and fish — is another option, he added.
The land in question has already been protected by the provinces against logging and other industrial development, he said.
“If it gets that [U.N.] recognition, it will be in part because the case has been made and the partners have promised to look after the values of this area for future generations.”