Look, there in the forest - it’s a provincial premier

Tour of boreal land part of UNESCO bid

From left, Bloodvein River Lodge owner William Young brings Premier Greg Selinger and Pimachiowin Aki Corp. spokeswoman Sophia Rabliauskas to shore. PHOTO BY J.J. ALI / PIMACHIOWIN AKI CORPFrom left, Bloodvein River Lodge owner William Young brings Premier Greg Selinger and Pimachiowin Aki Corp. spokeswoman Sophia Rabliauskas to shore.

BLOODVEIN—Imagine their surprise—a crew of grubby diehard wilderness canoeists on the Bloodvein River were welcomed to Manitoba by Premier Greg Selinger Thursday.

They also met some 39 conservation scientists, dignitaries and major media from Toronto, Chicago, New York and Winnipeg, also on tour on the Bloodvein River.

The dignitaries and media had just finished hearing traditional elders talk about how their culture is a heritage for all mankind if the land stays intact, when they literally ran into the hardy ecotourists.

Not even a publicist could have planned it better.

“We’re used to seeing nobody for days on end,” startled canoeist Paul Lawler said, swallowing his chili pita and thrusting out a hand to Selinger, as Aboriginal Affairs Minister Eric Robinson introduced the pair, telling the premier, “This guy’s from Owen Sound.”

The unlikely encounter coincided with the first day of a two-day tour of Manitoba’s boreal forest for influential environmentalists and philanthropists. The tour is part of the provincial government’s nomination process for a UNESCO heritage designation.

The bid has the backing of some, but not all First Nations, and covers an area the size of Denmark, some 43,000 square kilometres from Lake Winnipeg east past the Manitoba-Ontario border.

Bloodvein traditional teacher Martina Fisher said her people have a gift to share with the planet in their connection to the land. The relationship is both pragmatic and spiritual, she said, because of their culture’s holistic world view. “We have to rekindle that and learn those things (again) for the future generations,” Fisher said.

The seven canoeists were living proof of Fisher’s beliefs in the restorative power of nature.

They said they’d been paddling for eight solid days from Ontario and they hadn’t seen a soul before the premier and the entourage showed up in seven noisy motorboats.

An appreciation of the land gives you a sense of humour and an ability to cope with change.

“I can always say I met the premier,” said Lawler, letting out a whoop of laughter when Robinson interjected “in the bush.”

The tour, led by the premier and Pimachiowin Aki Corp. spokeswoman Sophia Rabliauskas, came alongside a sense of urgency as political storm clouds gather against a key element in the provincial bid.

Even the premier said this time may not come again.

“We only get one chance at this and we’re talking about protecting an entire ecosystem. These people,” the premier said gesturing to dignitaries, “these people will go out and they will talk about this place to the world.”

Representatives from the American MacArthur Foundation, the Canadian Richard Levy Foundation, Winnipeg Foundation CEO Rick Frost and writers from Vanity Fair, Vanishing World and Canadian Geographic said Manitoba’s bid makes sense since it’s being made on the grounds of indigenous cultural and natural ecological values.

“The boreal forest is this great green cloak that goes from Newfoundland to the Yukon and the best of what’s left of it is on the east side of Lake Winnipeg. It’s the largest intact forest left on the planet,” Suzuki Foundation science director Faisal Moola said.

But even with the eyes of the world on our UNESCO bid, even boreal forest supporters know there’s no guarantee of success.

The outcome of the provincial election this fall, some say, could kill the bid by scaring off the United Nations’ interest in it.

The provincial Progressive Conservatives vow to scrap Manitoba Hydro’s $2.2-billion plan to build a power line from northern dams south along the west side of Lake Winnipeg. They want to build it down the east side, through this region. It’s a route that’s cheaper and shorter and won’t affect the UNESCO bid, the PCs say.

That claim was dismissed as “baloney” by a straight-talking New Yorker.

Vanity Fair senior contributing editor Alex Shoumatoff said a transmission line would cut through the heart of the only untouched part of the boreal left. Saying it won’t has “got as many legs as (Donald) Trump’s birther issue,” he scoffed, in reference to the real estate mogul’s recent claims that U.S. President Barack Obama may not have been born in the U.S.

alexandra.paul@freepress.mb.ca