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UNESCO recommends Canada’s first mixed World Heritage site

Pimachiowin Aki, in northwestern Ontario and Manitoba, is home to one of the largest herds of woodland caribou south of Hudson Bay.

Jeff Wells

A massive tract of boreal forest straddling the Ontario and Manitoba borders that is known as the "Land that Gives Life" to the Anishinaabe people is recommended to become Canada's first mixed World Heritage site.

The advisory bodies to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization's (UNESCO's) World Heritage committee said Friday that the Pimachiowin Aki is so important to the world, both ecologically and culturally, that it must be protected.

The final decision about the designation will be announced in July when the World Heritage Committee meets in Istanbul.

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The Pimachiowin Aki, 33,400 square kilometres of mostly untouched wilderness (about the size of Belgium), is home to one of the largest herds of woodland caribou south of Hudson Bay as well as many other species of animals, birds, insects and fish.

The non-profit Pimachiowin Aki Corporation, created by the two provinces and five First Nations, has twice bid to have the region declared a World Heritage site. The first attempt was deferred in 2013 by the UNESCO committee, which said it was unclear whether the area is unique and requested more information from Canada.

The corporation rewrote its submission with new evidence focusing on the Anishinaabe cultural tradition of Ji-ganawendamang Gidakiiminaan, which means "keeping the land." The First Nations claim roots in the Pimachiowin Aki dating back 6,000 years.

Although Canada has nine natural World Heritage sites and eight cultural World Heritage sites, the Pimachiowin Aki would be the first mixed site in this country and the second in North America after the ancient Mayan city and protected tropical forests of Calakmul, Campeche, in Mexico. There are just 32 mixed World Heritage sites worldwide.

"This is obviously very positive news," Gord Jones, the project manager for the Pimachiowin Aki, said of the recommendation. "There are ecological and other benefits associated with protected areas."

The designation would fulfill the vision of the First Nations' communities that want to preserve their traditional lands, their trap lines and their traditional livelihoods, he said, but it would also create new opportunities for tourism, non-timber forest projects and the involvement in boreal research activities.

Mathew Jacobson, a boreal conservation officer with The Pew Charitable Trusts, praised the recommendation, saying "the Pimachiowin Aki nomination has been the catalyst for action in the international conservation community to address long-standing issues about indigenously managed landscapes."

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