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Manitoba World Heritage Site

Manitoba's World Heritage Site Nomination

Neighbouring First Nations on Manitoba's east side have nominated their traditional lands to be protected from development. They signed an Accord in 2002, committing to work together for protection of their lands. Members of the Accord include four First Nations in Manitoba, and one First Nation in Ontario. As part of the process to secure both self-management and protection for their traditional lands, the Accord First Nations decided to pursue World Heritage Site status for their lands. Proposed World Heritage Site
CBC WHS proposed map
© CBC 2005    Larger Version
Discussions initiated by these First Nation communities for protection of their traditional territories and a future World Heritage Site in the region were acknowledged by the World Conservation Union (IUCN), which manages the world heritage sites program for UNESCO. This potential World Heritage Site also includes Atikaki Wilderness Park (Manitoba) and Woodland Caribou Park (Ontario).

The WHS nomination area, Pimachiowin Aki (the land that gives life) is an area of 40, 000 km2 of boreal forest. It includes 5 traditional territories, parts of 2 provinces, three Provincial Parks (Atikaki, Atikaki South and Woodland Caribou Provincial Park), 4 proposed park additions, Eagle-Snowshoe Conservation Reserve in Ontario, and the Bloodvien River, a designated Canadian Heritage River.

The area is critical habitat for the threatened Woodland Caribou and contains many archaeological sites important to First Nation history and culture. The intent is to seek World Heritage Site listing as both a natural landscape and heritage site.

The nomination represents a potential World Heritage Site that is both naturally and culturally significant on a global basis and consistent with the current priority to secure Boreal forest WHS. (See What is a World Heritage Site? section).

A June 2004 report resulting from an October 2003 international IUCN workshop to review and provide recommendations on potential World Heritage Sites for the boreal ecozone supports the Manitoba-Ontario First Nations-led nomination. Canada's Minister of the Environment also endorsed the First Nations' nomination by including it on Canada's updated Tentative List for World Heritage Sites, released in April 2004.

View the "St. Petersburg Declaration" (excerpt of the October 2003 IUCN Workshop Report)

downloadDownload Protected Areas and First Nation Resource Stewardship Accord (PDF)
downloadDownload Pikangikum First Nation and The Partnership for Public Lands Agreement (PDF)
The Manitoba First Nations involved in the Accord, and WHS nomination are currently in the process of securing legal protection for their lands and completion of lands management plans for their traditional territories. These are both community goals of the First Nations as well as being requirements for preparation of the WHS Nomination File (See Inscription Process above). Proposed World Heritage Site Nomination - Pimachiowin Aki With Land Interests
Proposed World Heritage Site Nomination - Pimachiowin Aki With Land Interests Map
Larger Image

View June 2008 Manitoba Wildlands Map: Proposed World Heritage Site Nomination - Pimachiowin Aki MWL owl
View June 2008 Manitoba Widlands Map: Proposed World Heritage Site Nomination - Pimachiowin Aki With Ecoregions MWL owl
View September 2008 Manitoba Widlands Map: Proposed World Heritage Site Nomination - Pimachiowin Aki With Land Interests MWL owl

View Pimachiowin Aki - World Heritage Project Area Map
View Pimachiowin Aki World Heritage Project Area Ecosystem Services Valuation Assessment 2008 (Summary Report)
View Pimachiowin Aki World Heritage Project Area Ecosystem Services Valuation Assessment 2008 (Full report)

East Side UNESCO Bid Submitted

Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger announced January 18, 2012 that the nomination package to have a vast boreal area east of Lake Winnipeg designated a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Site (WHS) is complete.

The decision making process generally takes 18 months, as UNESCO officials consider the natural and cultural value of site. 4,000 pages of documents, videos, and photographs have been sent to UNESCO officials in Paris. They will be reviewed to ensure it is complete and will then be forwarded to UNESCO's technical advisors at the International Union for Conservation of Nature and the International Council on Monuments and Sites.

Known as Pimachiowin Aki — Ojibway for "the land that gives life" — the nominated area encompasses 33,400 square kilometres of boreal forest, rivers, lakes and wetlands spread across eastern Manitoba and into Ontario. The nominated WHS includes Atikaki Provincial Park in Manitoba and Woodland Caribou Provincial Park in Ontario. Five First Nations started the designation bid in 2002 and will manage the lands with the Governments of Ontario and Manitoba. The five First Nations entered into an accord in 2002, which called for establishment of the WHS.

"This is the completion of many years of effort by our partnership," commented Pikangikum First Nation representative and partnership cochairman Alex Peters. "Back in 1999 when our elders were considering planning issues related to Dedicated Protected Areas they wanted to create opportunities for future generations of our youth. It was at that time that they decided to pursue a World Heritage Site opportunity."

Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty said the UNESCO site "would stand as a proud example of co-operation among aboriginal peoples, the province of Ontario and the province of Manitoba."

"We need to work together to take care of this land for people who live on the land and for visitors to the land. We also know that we are protecting it for children across the world who benefit from things that are often unseen like clean air and clean water," said Sophia Rabliauskas, spokesperson for Pimachiowin Aki.

"What it means for Manitobans is that we are going to be globally recognized for what we have done to protect this site," said Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger.

"It is Manitoba and Ontario's responsibility to design and protect these WHS lands. Road-building, mining and forestry operations will be allowed inside some areas of the proposed WHS, so it is not yet clear how much of the entire area will be protected," noted Manitoba Wildlands Director Gaile Whelan Enns.

If the bid is successful, the region would join other UNESCO world heritage sites such as Australia's Great Barrier Reef, Arizona's Grand Canyon and Canada's Banff National Park.

View January 20, 2012 Kenora Daily Miner article
View January 19, 2012 Winnipeg Free Press article
View January 19, 2012 Winnipeg Sun article
View January 18, 2012 Government of Manitoba News Release
View Pimachiowin Aki World Heritage Project website
View UNESCO World Heritage Centre website
Sources: Daily Miner, CBC, Government of Manitoba

Manitoba Government WHS Support

Manitoba Premier Doer, Conservation Minister Struthers, Hydro Minister Chomiak, and finance Minister Selinger all made public statements in support of the World Heritage Site nomination. Manitoba Wildlands has prepared a running list of these statements of support. From time to time we will be updating the list. Government support was made public in November 2004.

downloadDownload Manitoba Government WHS Support MWL owl (PDF) Updated April 2008

World Conservation Congress

In November 2004, members of Poplar River First Nation traveled to the 3rd IUCN World Conservation Congress in Bangkok, Thailand, and participated in negotiations and meetings to arrive at final wording for a recommendation that went before the WCC Assembly.

World Gongress doc cover The recommendation, which calls on Canada, Russia, and all boreal forest nations to recognize, preserve and protect ecological processes that sustain the overall health of boreal forest regions, was accepted by the WCC. The recommendation makes specific reference to the need to "facilitate and continue to fund needed scientific, technical, indigenous and local community activity to assist in the nomination and designation of boreal forest regions as recognized international sites, for example, World Heritage Sites such as the indigenous led Atikaki/Woodland Caribou/Accord First Nations - Manitoba and Ontario nomination, recently placed on Canada's official Tentative List for World Heritage Sites."

downloadDownload WCC Recommendation CGR3.REC021 - Conservation of Canada's Boreal Forest (DOC)
View November 25, 2004 Manitoba Wildlands News Item MWL owl

Poplar River First Nation Interview

PRFN members and MWThe Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) is featuring an interview with leaders of the Poplar River First Nation about the connection between protection of heir traditional boreal forest lands and the health and future of their community. The web site hosted interview refers to the ongoing process to achieve World Heritage Site status for the First Nation's lands, as part of the larger WHS nomination.

The interview is based on a conversation with Albert Bittern, Elder; Ernest Bruce, band manager; Victor Bruce, Elder; Ed Hudson, lands councilor; Ray Rabliauskas, land management coordinator; and Sofia Rabliauskas, councilor.

Poplar River First Nation's lands are included in the NRDC's Heart of the Boreal BioGem campaign.

View Poplar River Interview on the NRDC website
Visit NRDC's Heart of the Boreal BioGem website

Poplar River First Nation Lands Plan

For several years Poplar River First Nation has been involved in lands protection, lands planning, its own traditional use studies and arriving at its own lands management plan for the Asatiwisipe Aki Traditional Territory. Its territory of over one million hectares has mostly been protected from development by Manitoba regulation, at the request of the First Nation, starting in 1999.

Since fall 2005 when the First Nation completed its lands plan, various presentations regarding its protected lands undertaking, and the World Heritage Site accord have been made. The lands plan has now also been presented to the Manitoba government. The First Nation has posted the lands management plan on its web site.

As of September 2010 the Manitoba Government has not completed review of the plan.

View Asatiwisipe Aki Lands Management Plan

Goldman Award for Poplar River Woman

Sophia Bittern Rabliauskas, by Tom Dusenbery Sophia Bittern Rabliauskas, of Poplar River First Nation is one of six international activists to win a major international environmental award for efforts to secure permanent protection from development for the traditional lands of her people. Poplar River's traditional lands are located about 600 km northeast of Winnipeg in Manitoba's boreal forest.

Sophia Bittern Rabliauskas is the 2007 North American winner of the Goldman Environmental Prize, established in 1990 by San Francisco philanthropist Richard Goldman and his family. The award, worth US $125,000, is handed out every year to one person from each continent in recognition of grassroots environmental work.

The recognition "means a lot," said Rabliauskas. "Not only I, but the whole community... has worked tirelessly to protect the boreal forest."

Sophia Bittern Rabliauskas is the only Manitoban to ever win the award; only a handful of Canadians have won the award.

Rabliauskas and the Poplar River Elders believe returning to the forest is the key to a healthier future. "To preserve the land means preserving our people," she said.

Elders Said to Plan and Study
It all began over a decade ago, when community Elders made a decision that's directly responsible for the award decision. They told their sons and daughters that the Aboriginal wisdom wasn't enough to protect the land and their way of life anymore. They worried loggers would come to cut down the trees and governments would dam the rivers without consulting them.

Whiskey Jack Lake, Poplar River The Elders directed that the people should work with scientists to confirm that the land had a purpose beyond the bottom line and support the assertion that the people of Poplar River had a right to demand a say in the future of their traditional lands. This eventually evolved into the development of a comprehensive land protection and management plan - the Asatiwisipe Aki Lands Management Plan - a precedent-setting effort among First Nations in the world's boreal region.

Poplar River's plan is a full-scale blueprint of how the community is documenting, protecting and sustainably managing Poplar River's forests, wildlife and other natural resources. The plan outlines the following core components: respecting traditional knowledge; benefiting from environmental analysis; developing economic opportunities, including protection of traditional hunting, trapping and fishing activities; and creating sustainable tourism opportunities.

Once Sophia Bittern Rabliauskas and Poplar River's current efforts to secure permanent protection of their land from the Manitoba government are realized, they will focus their energy on another goal - to achieve UNESCO World Heritage listing for a large boreal forest region in Manitoba and Ontario that encompasses Poplar River's lands.

Interim protection by provincial regulation of these lands (from industrial development) has been in place since 1999. Poplar River First Nation has formally requested permanent protection steps from the Manitoba government. Lands plans, protected lands and a combined lands management strategy are essential for the World Heritage Site evaluation.

downloadDownload Manitoba Wildlands Brief about Poplar River protected lands MWL owl (PDF)
View the Goldman profile, photos, and acceptance speech of Sophia Rabliauskas
Visit the Poplar River First Nation website
Watch the CBC video clip about Sophia and the Goldman Prize: Quick Time video or Real Media video
View the April 22, 2007 CBC Manitoba article
downloadDownload the April 22, 2007 Winnipeg Free Press: article 1 & article 2 (DOCs)
View the Winnipeg Free Press slideshow about Sophia and Poplar River First Nation
downloadDownload the April 22, 2007 Globe and Mail article
View the April 22, 2008 MacLeans article
View the April 23, 2007 Canadian Press article on
View the April 23, 2007 Manitoba Wildlands news item MWL owl
Sources: CBC, Winnipeg Free Press, Goldman Environmental Foundation, Canadian Press

World Heritage Site (WHS) Chronology

Atikaki / Woodland Caribou / First Nations Accord /
World Heritage Site Nomination
Current as of October 2010
2010 2009
  • October 2009 - Manitoba Government pledges $10 million to trust fund for Pimachiowin Aki World Heritage Project to help demonstrate to UNESCO there is financial and public support for the project, to generate revenue for site operation, and create jobs and opportunities for First Nation communities.
  • September 2009 - Steve Ashton supports efforts of First Nations in bid for WHS in the Manitoba Wildlands NDP leadership survey.
  • June 2009 - East Side Traditional Lands Planning and Special Protected Areas Act strengthened with amendments requested by First Nations ensuring government to-government talks (consultations) for any land protection and planning stemming from the Act.
  • June 2009 - Manitoba Hansard regarding presentations in Legislation Review Committee of Manitoba Legislature for The East Side Traditional Lands Planning and Special Protected Areas bill.
  • May 2009 - Manitoba Annual Budget addresse includes funding commitments regarding land use plans for First Nations involved in the nomination for the world heritage site.
  • May 2009 - Manitoba Government increases funding ($532000) and staffing support for traditional lands planning and UNESCO WHS nomination including a 30% increase in grant funding for Pimachiowin Aki Coorporation.
  • March 2009 - Budget ensures continued support of First Nations on the east side with their bid fro a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
  • December 4, 2008 - Manitoba government doubles funding to support bid for UNESCO world heritage site.
  • December 1, 2008 - New legislation: East Side Traditional Lands Planning and Special Protected Areas Act introduced enabling First Nations to develop land use plans for interim and permanent legal protection of traditional lands on the east side. Act to ensure development is conducted with First Nations, while designating land on the east side as a special protected area as well as supporting establishment of the WHS.
  • July 30, 2008 - Manitoba and Ontario establish Cananda's first Interprovincial Wilderness area. Management Plans for Atikaki Provincial Park and Bloodvien Heritage River are released. These are parts of the planning process required for UNESCO World Heritage Site nomination.
  • July 1, 2008 - Conservation Minister Stan Struthers promotes WHS to UNESCO with Pimachiowin Aki.
  • March 2008 - Budget promises to provide resources to support First Nations bid for a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
  • September 25, 2007 - The 2005 Manitoba Government commitment to keep hydro transmission lines out of the province's east side - to preserve its boreal forests' ecological integrity and to assist in pursuit of World Heritage Site status - is confirmed by Manitoba Hydro. The utility announces that it will "move forward with plans to build a new high voltage direct current (HVDC) transmission line, known as BiPole III, on the west side of the Province."
  • April/May 2007 - During the provincial election campaign, the Manitoba NDP released a series of press releases, which reaffirm the party's support for the proposed World Heritage Site. The Manitoba NDP's responses to Manitoba Wildlands' election survey also made reference to its support for the WHS.
  • April 4, 2007 - As part of the 2007 Manitoba Budget, the Minister of Finance announces that "Budget 2007 supports First Nations-led efforts to... secure a UNESCO World Heritage designation, putting this spectacular region on the world map."
  • February 2, 2007 - A Manitoba Conservation press release announces establishment of Pimachiowin-Aki, a new, non-profit corporation working to secure the UNESCO designation and $130,000 in funding to "support ongoing efforts to have lands east of Lake Winnipeg in Manitoba and in northwestern Ontario recognized as a world heritage site".

Continued World Heritage Site Chronology (2006-2002)

World Heritage Site

Manitoba Wildlands2002-2014