Today’s post was written by Doug Gilmore, recently retired superintendent of Woodland Caribou Provincial Park. The publication commemorates the designation of Pimachiowin Aki as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
A trip can be defined as “the act of traveling from one place to another.” With every achievement there is often a journey, and the inscription of Pimachiowin Aki (Pi-MATCH-o-win Ah-KAY) as a UNESCO World Heritage Site was no exception.
Travel also often includes twists and turns and, most importantly, learning as you travel.
The people who imagined Pimachiowin Aki started in separate places, came together in a society and ended in a common destiny: inscription on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
“The journey was a test of faith and patience, a lot of hard work to prove ourselves and achieve the final result, a sigh of relief and Pimachiowin Aki became a reality.”
— Ed Hudson, Pimachiowin Aki Board Member, Poplar River First Nation (September 26, 2018)
Skeletons after a fire in the Bloodvein River. Photo: Doug Gilmore
It began in 2002, when five Ojibway indigenous communities (Little Grand Rapids, Pauingassi, Bloodvein, Poplar River and Pikangikum) met to discuss shared interests.
As a result, they agreed to pursue the establishment of a linked network of protected areas in the boreal forest of northwestern Ontario and eastern Manitoba.
Creating an association
Around the same time, government representatives from Ontario and Manitoba met to discuss the gap in representation of the boreal forest biome within the UNESCO World Heritage system.
They could possibly fill that void with a cross-border proposal that includes Woodland Caribou Provincial Park in Ontario and Atikaki Provincial Park in Manitoba.
Clothes line. Photo: Pimachiowin Aki Corporation
When the two groups learned of each other’s discussions, it became clear that a partnership opportunity had great potential and the journey began. As you can imagine, it was not quite that easy. Lasting partnerships take time and hard work.
The first journey that began was the journey of learning. Partners met, shared perspectives, learned about UNESCO World Heritage sites and the process involved in inscription, but, above all, learned from each other.
Guided by Parks Canada through the technical side of the process, the new partnership explored the potential together and as separate groups. Finally, they committed to seeking registration in 2004.
Pimachiowin Aki (“the land that gives life”) was officially born.
Fall colors along the Bloodvein River. Photo: Doug Gilmore
“The land sustains us not only through food, but also through our spirit. “It’s hard to tell the outside world what it means to us.”
— Sophia Rabliauskas, Poplar River First Nation (December 16, 2004)
In the years between 2004, when Pimachiowin Aki was placed in Indicative list of World Heritage sites of Canada, and 2018, when the site was registered in the World Heritage ListThe trip took the members to every corner of the place.
They learned from elders and community members about the cultural and natural importance of the area, but more importantly, what this area means to the people who live here and care for the land. The association had ups and downs.
Although not all of the original partners continued with the group until final enrollment, their knowledge and guidance informed the partnership and the project, and for that, Pimachiowin Aki will always be grateful.
Weaver Lake Poplar River Traditional Area. Photo: Pimachiowin Aki Corporation
“The tipi represents the project. Under the branches here we are all together, that is what makes us strong. Pimachiowin Aki is under the branches.”
— Augustine Keeper, Land Coordinator and Pimachiowin Aki Board Member of Little Grand Rapids First Nation
There is a shared belief among all indigenous communities within the site that there is a strong bond between the people and the land. This concept was fundamental to the initiative, and it cannot be understated that this concept, although foreign to those not raised in the culture, was going to be the foundation of the project and ultimately lead to the success of the initiative.
Pimachiowin Aki provides an exceptional testimony to the continuing Anishinaabe cultural tradition of Ji-ganawendamang Gidakiminan (Maintaining the Earth).
Ji-ganawendamang Gidakiminan guides relationships between the Anishinaabeg and the land; it is the framework through which the cultural landscape of Pimachiowin Aki is perceived, given meaning, used and sustained across generations.
Caribou at Boomerang Lake. Photo: Doug Gilmore
Widely dispersed across the landscape are ancient and contemporary livelihood sites, sacred sites and named places, most linked by waterways that are tangible reflections of Ji-ganawendamang Gidakiminan.
On July 1, 2018, Pimachiowin Aki was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was inscribed as a natural and cultural site, the first in Canada!
keeping the land
It is described as an exceptional example of the cultural tradition of Ji-ganawendamang Gidakiminan (Keeping the Earth) which involves honoring the gifts of the Creator, observing respectful interactions with here (the earth and all its life), and maintain harmonious relationships with other people.
Pimachiowin Aki is the largest and most complete example of the North American boreal shield, including its biodiversity and characteristic ecological processes. Pimachiowin Aki contains an exceptional diversity of terrestrial and freshwater ecosystems and fully supports wildfires, nutrient fluxes, species movements, and predator-prey relationships, which are essential ecological processes in the boreal forest.
Forest succession on the Bloodvein River. Photo: Doug Gilmore
Why seek registration? What can registration do for members?
We’re glad you asked. It is an opportunity to share a unique and beautiful landscape with all of humanity and to make the world aware of a place, a people and a link to the land that seems invisible to many.
Member of the Little Grand Rapids First Nation familiarizing us with his family’s area. Photo: Doug Gilmore
With registration comes recognition, and with recognition comes visitors. Conceptually, that is not a bad thing, but it requires careful management to ensure that the features that convey the area’s outstanding universal value are not compromised and that indigenous communities can care for the land as they always have. .
Partners are proud of their individual communities, their traditional areas and their regulated protected areas. They are eager to share them with the world for recreational and educational purposes.
The journey continues
Woodland Caribou Provincial Park is very proud to be part of Piamchiowin Aki and will continue to work closely with its partners, as well as Indigenous communities whose traditional areas are shared with the park, but who are not currently part of Pimachiowin Aki.
These cooperative relationships are important to Woodland Caribou Provincial Park and the continued health of the park’s landscape.
“The UNESCO World Heritage designation is recognition of this special place and the people who have shaped it. It really is a gift to enjoy.”
— Superintendent Christine Hague, Woodland Caribou Provincial Park
Learn more about Pimachiowin Aki by visiting pimachiowinaki.org to stay up to date with the latest news and events in this unique landscape.