UNESCO approval is $20-M fund’s goal

November 9, 2010
Sophia Rabliauskas says future employment for First Nations people is at stake. (Photo by [email protected]) Five First Nations communities on the east side of Lake Winnipeg hope you open your wallet to help tell the world their ancestral home is worthy of a United Nations world heritage designation.

The goal of the Pimachiowin Aki World Heritage Project is to raise $20 million with the help of the Winnipeg Foundation.

Details of the endowment fund were released Monday and are available on the Campaign for the Land that Gives Us Life website.

Pimachiowin Aki spokeswoman Sophia Rabliauskas said the $20-million fund will help show the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) that the project has a viable financial plan to take care of the land well into the future. The Manitoba government committed $10 million to the fund two years ago.

“We see this as an opportunity to create employment for our people and our communities,” Rabliauskas said of the project. “Something to secure a future for our children and grandchildren.”

She said the fund will be used to create heritage programs to train aboriginal people to teach First Nations culture to visitors, and to conduct scientific research into the boreal forest. Both are needed to qualify for the UNESCO designation.

Winnipeg Foundation CEO Rick Frost said the foundation will manage the fund and match gifts of nine to one; for every $9 a person or organization contributes, the foundation will give $1.

“We’re hoping to see hundreds and thousands of donations,” Frost said. “The whole issue is, will the community validate this vision. The aboriginal communities have worked hard to create and to preserve this heritage and create a legacy. Our challenge now I think as a broader community is to support that vision.”

Ron Thiessen, executive director of the Manitoba chapter of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, said his group supports the UNESCO bid.

“We would be more than willing to work with the province and the communities to help raise funds and to bolster this project any way we can,” he said.

Aboriginal and Northern Affairs Minister Eric Robinson said he believes the Pimachiowin Aki World Heritage Project is one of the largest aboriginal-driven projects in Canada.

He said despite the ongoing political debate over the new Bipole III hydro transmission line, the people who call the area home should come first.

The NDP government decided more than four years ago not to build a line through the area, but rather build it down a longer and more expensive route on the west side of the province.

“It’s very easy for other Manitobans, other Canadians, to be critical of that decision and particularly about the government that I’m a part of, but they should take a moment, take a few days and go visit the communities, talk to the elders first-hand, talk to the trappers, talk to the people that make a livelihood out of the land and they will fully understand and get a better appreciation of what the land means,” he said.

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The land gives life

Pimachiowin Aki (Pim-Match-cho-win Ahh-Key) is Ojibwa for the the land that gives life.

It’s also the name of the non-profit corporation of five First Nations in eastern Manitoba and northern Ontario that are working toward a UNESCO world heritage designation for an area about the size of Denmark on the east side of the province.

The First Nations are Poplar River, Bloodvein, Little Grand Rapids, Pauingassi and Pikangikum. The Manitoba and Ontario governments also support it.

The hope is through a designation the area could be opened up for wilderness and cultural tourism through aboriginal businesses.

The project has been ongoing for almost five years and is behind the Manitoba government’s decision to build the new $2.2-billion hydro Bipole III transmission line down the west side of the province. The argument is the hydro line could jeopardize the designation.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 9, 2010 A5

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