THE final pieces of a deal to co-manage a vast tract of boreal forest with aboriginal groups is expected to be announced this morning, Conservation and Water Stewardship Minister Gord Mackintosh confirmed Sunday.
Lake Winnipeg First Nations Little Grand Rapids and Pauingassi have approved land-management plans with the province.
The agreement clears the path to proceed with a decade-long bid to get a huge slice of northern Manitoba known as the Pimachiowin Aki area designated a United Nations United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) world heritage site.
It also comes as the aboriginal Idle No More movement and its allies take on a range of fronts, including the threat of blockades this week.
Recent budget bills violate a constitutional right to consultation and infringe on First Nations' independence on matters of the environment and band autonomy, supporters say.
The First Nations on board are Poplar River, Bloodvein, Little Grand Rapids and Pauingassi in Manioba and Pikangikum in northwestern Ontario.
Pauingassi territory makes up 3,100 square kilometres and Grand Rapids 4,700 square kilometres of the 43,000-square-kilometre area, the largest tract of boreal forest in North America to be recognized as jointly controlled with aboriginal people.
The Manitoba and Ontario governments have passed legislation to protect the site.
The nomination package was delivered to UN officials in Paris by Pimachiowin Corp. in January 2012.
It is currently being evaluated and is expected to be on the agenda of UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee, which meets in Cambodia in June 2013.
"This is a historic achievement for aboriginal empowerment in Canada," said Mackintosh.
The protection is recognized in provincial legislation in Manitoba but not yet in Ontario.
The co-management deal gives First Nations greater say in development of their traditional territories.
"What it means for us is we are able to protect our land and protect our water. We'll have a say in managing our territory," said Augustine Keeper, the Pimachiowin Aki member from Little Grand Rapids.
The deal also protects the water that flows into Lake Winnipeg from the east, which could be critical to restore the environmental health of ecologically fragile Lake Winnipeg, nominated days ago for "Threatened Lake of the Year" by the Global Nature Fund.
Environmental groups hailed the development. Longtime supporters the Pew Environmental Group called the agreement a model for co-management of land resources with aboriginal peoples.
A book with maps, images and stories profiling the proposed UNESCO site is now available at McNally Robinson Booksellers.