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UNESCO rejection not end of boreal bid

Backers hope for rejigged heritage site standards

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OTTAWA -- The federal government is disappointed a United Nations group rejected a bid to designate a swath of pristine boreal forest in Manitoba as a World Heritage Site over the weekend.

But the province believes a proposal for Pimachiowin Aki will still be approved next year as part of a process that will see the UN rejig its whole process for reviewing sites which mix both cultural and natural beauty.

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The World Heritage Committee of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization decided on the weekend the Pimachiowin Aki bid wasn't up to snuff and deferred a decision on its status for a year.

However, the organization has already met with the bid's backers since the decision Saturday and plans a visit to Manitoba this fall.

"There has already been a good meeting of the minds to set out our path to inscription," said Manitoba Conservation Minister Gord Mackintosh.

Mackintosh said there was recognition the problem with the bid has more to do with the process for reviewing and approving sites that mix culture and nature. Only 29 of the 962 approved World Heritage Sites are mixed, while 745 of them are cultural and 188 are natural.

"This nomination has been asked to be the trigger to integrate the cultural and natural nomination processes," said Mackintosh.

The two independent review bodies used by UNESCO to analyze bids for new World Heritage Sites worried the Pimachiowin Aki site was not unique, nor did it explain enough about the connection between the land and the First Nations people who live there. There were disagreements about whether the borders of the site, for example, should be rivers or trap lines.

There was also a demand for First Nations people to argue the site was better than other similar places in the world, something which goes against aboriginal cultural traditions not to claim superiority over anyone else.

The Pimachiowin Aki Project launched a petition to protest the requirement it establish superiority over anyone else.

The site is a 33,400-hectare swath of virtually untouched boreal forest on the east side of Lake Winnipeg. The push to turn it into a World Heritage Site was led by five First Nations and supported by Manitoba, Ontario, and the federal government.

Federal Environment Minister Peter Kent expressed disappointment UNESCO didn't accept the bid.

"Canada nominated Pimachiowin Aki as a site of global cultural and natural importance, where there is an indivisible relationship between the First Nations who live there and the boreal forest landscape they inhabit," he said in a news release. "It is a nomination that illustrates the connection between human society and the natural environment around us."

The Manitoba Conservative Opposition, meanwhile, wondered Monday whether the province had done its homework in preparing its UNESCO designation bid.

Tory Leader Brian Pallister said the UN decision raises questions about whether Manitoba will ever see a return on the millions of dollars it has already spent on the bid.


-- With a file by Larry Kusch

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 25, 2013 A10

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