Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Heritage bid for site once again on hold

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A decade-long bid to designate a huge tract of land on the east side of the province as a United Nations World Heritage Site is on hold for another year.

The news was broken by Conservation Minister Gord Mackintosh on Friday, although it had been posted in a report on the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization's (UNESCO) website several days ago.

UNESCO said it wants more information on the cultural value of the 33,400-square-kilometre area, known as Pimachiowin Aki, to First Nations people.

"This nomination raises fundamental issues in terms of how the indissoluble bonds that exist in some places between culture and nature might be recognized on the World Heritage List for the cultural value of nature," the International Council on Monuments and Sites, a body affiliated with UNESCO, said in the report.

Mackintosh said the deferral for one more year should not be seen as a setback, although there is some disappointment the initial bid fell short of getting a designation this year.

"There's some relief that we know that there is, indeed, good potential and I think there's relief, because now we know where some of the areas are that need some further work," he said.

"We knew that there were challenges. We knew that it was very rare to have both the cultural and the natural areas looked at together."

The Pimachiowin Aki project is a collaboration of five First Nations and the Manitoba and Ontario governments. It is aimed at giving world heritage status to the largest protected area in the North American boreal shield. The five First Nations are Poplar River, Bloodvein, Little Grand Rapids, Pauingassi and Pikangikum, which is in northwestern Ontario.

The Manitoba government has committed or spent more than $14 million already on the project. Ontario has also provided funding. The two provinces recently signed a memorandum of understanding to protect and manage the site and surrounding natural resources to strengthen the site's application.

Mackintosh said one stumbling block to securing a designation this year is whether the bid's description of the human connection to the land, using mostly trap lines, was appropriate to determine the site's boundaries.

The UNESCO evaluators said it might be more appropriate to use geographic markers such as rivers, he said.

"We got one evaluation that said what we did was appropriate and the other one that questioned it," he added.

Mackintosh also said some "factual corrections" have to be made in the UNESCO evaluation, such as the province's banning of peat mining in the area. "The nomination just needs some better understanding by the evaluators," he added. "We've already launched discussions about how we can move on a timely basis on how we can get the next mission here to Manitoba and Ontario to look at the site again and consider some of the areas that they want to put further attention to."

bruce.owen@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 4, 2013 A12

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