Pimachiowin Aki

Pimachiowin Aki (pronounced Pim-MATCH-cho-win Ahh-KEY) was designated as Canada’s 19th World Heritage Site by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in 2018. Pimachiowin Aki means “the land that gives life” in Anishinaabemowin, a local Ojibwe language. It was recognized as an exceptional example of the cultural tradition of Ji-ganawendamang Gidakiiminaan, or “keeping the land.” The site represents Canada’s first, and only, mixed World Heritage Site. Mixed sites commemorate both the area’s natural value as well as its cultural significance. Pimachiowin Aki is also one of four Canadian World Heritage Sites that recognize Indigenous history. The other three are Writing-on-Stone/Aisinai’pi, Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump, and SGang Gwaay.

Map of Pimachiowin Aki World Heritage Site

Geography

Pimachiowin Aki is located on either side of the Manitoba-Ontario border. Within the site’s boundaries are Manitoba’s Atikaki Provincial Park and South Atikaki Provincial Park, and Ontario’s Woodland Caribou Provincial Park and Eagle-Snowshoe Conservation Reserve. At 2,904,000 hectares, Pimachiowin Aki is more than five times the size of Prince Edward Island. It represents the largest protected area of boreal shield — an ecosystem where boreal forest and Canadian Shield overlap — in North America. The site contains over 3,200 lakes and over 5,000 freshwater marshes and pools.

Wildlife and Vegetation

Boreal forest in northern Manitoba.

This region is home to over 700 vascular plant species and approximately 400 mammal, bird, amphibian, reptile and fish species. Commonly sighted animals include the loon, woodland caribou, moose, wolf, black bear, wolverine, lynx, lake sturgeon, and leopard frog. Plant species include black ash, jack pine, balsam poplar, raspberries, blueberries and wild rice. (See also Wild Berries in Canada.)

Anishinabeg

The Anishinabeg have been the ancestral stewards of Pimachiowin Aki since time immemorial. A spear-point found at Rowdy Lake, Ontario, is the earliest evidence of human occupation within the area, dated between 9,000 and 7,000 years ago. In addition, Pimachiowin Aki includes approximately 285 archaeological sites. These sites include pictographs, living areas and evidence of traditional land-use. Examples of traditional land-use include the practice of resource rotation, in which hunting, fishing and harvesting sites are shifted in order to give plants and animals time to recover. Through practices such as these, the Anishinabeg have ensured that human activity never depletes Pimachiowin Aki’s resources. The area also includes many sacred sites, however, few have been publicly identified by the Anishinabeg in order to keep their locations secret.

Today, four Anishinabeg First Nations communities are located within Pimachiowin Aki, on the Manitoba side of the provincial boundary: Bloodvein River, Little Grand Rapids, Pauingassi and Poplar River.

World Heritage Site Designation

Pimachiowin Aki’s recognition as a World Heritage Site was the result of a 16-year campaign. In 2002, four Anishinaabe First Nations signed an accord among themselves. Their goal was to protect their ancestral lands through a UNESCO World Heritage designation. The four First Nations were: Little Grand Rapids, Pauingassi, Poplar River and Pikangikum. Bloodvein River First Nation joined them shortly thereafter. In 2016, Pikangikum First Nation, the only Ontario-based community, left the group over concerns with the UNESCO evaluation process. As a result, Pimachiowin Aki’s proposed area became smaller.

Partnerships with the governments of Ontario and Manitoba led to the creation of the Pimachiowin Aki Corporation in 2006. The corporation was responsible for protecting and presenting Pimachiowin Aki’s “Outstanding Universal Value” were it to be designated as a World Heritage Site.

In 2018, Pimachiowin Aki was designated a World Heritage Site for being a living example of the Anishinabeg cultural tradition of Ji-ganawendamang Gidakiiminaan, or “keeping the land.” Ji-ganawendamang Gidakiiminaan is the belief that the Anishinabeg are obligated to honour the Creator’s gifts through sustainable ways of life. These ideas are shared by many other Indigenous communities throughout Canada and North America. Examples of Ji-ganawendamang Gidakiiminaan include the controlled burning of shoreline vegetation. Burning shorelines helps wild carrots, grasses and reeds grow, improving the habitat for muskrats and waterfowl. These animals are in turn hunted and trapped by the Anishinabeg.

Visiting Pimachiowin Aki

The Anishinabeg welcome visitors to Pimachiowin Aki to learn how they have cared for the site for over 7,000 years. Visitors can either drive to Bloodvein River using an all-season road, fly to the more remote communities, or access the site through ice roads in the winter. While in Pimachiowin Aki, visitors can experience backcountry camping, canoeing, boating, fishing or navigating.


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