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April 01, 2020

Pimachiowin Aki: The protection of intact forest landscapes as an effective policy tool

In July of 2018, Pimachiowin Aki, known as “the land that gives life,” an Anishinaabeg First Nations traditional territory, was identified as a UNESCO world heritage site due to the vast amount of wilderness, cultural and environmental significance the area holds. Pimachiowin Aki is located within the northern Canadian boreal shield and forms the largest network of contiguous intact protected areas within the boreal ecosystem. This area covers over 43,000 km2—almost twice the size of New Jersey! The creation of this UNESCO world heritage site established a transboundary protected area linking regions in Ontario and Manitoba with Indigenous traditional territories and uses community-based approaches and Indigenous Traditional Knowledge to manage the newly protected areas. 
Photo courtesy of UNESCO.

The Pimachiowin Aki region holds a diverse range of landscapes including, rivers, lakes, wetlands and the boreal forest. Within these diverse landscapes include a mosaic of ancient and modern-day livelihood sites, habitation areas, travel routes, trap lines and ceremonial sites. These livelihood areas embody the sustainability of Anishinaabeg Ji-ganawendamang Gidakiiminaan, “Keeping of the Land”, cultural traditions over the past 7,000 years.
However, Indigenous peoples are the amongst the most vulnerable populations at risk of being directly affected by climate change due to their dependence and intensive relationship with the natural land and its resources. Often times, Indigenous communities are neglected by national and sub-national governments due to resource intensive agendas that will produce significant economic stimulus but pose great ecological risk and damage upon traditional Indigenous lands and cultures. To combat these externalities, the protection of intact forest landscapes through the use of Indigenous traditional knowledge and ecosystem services governance have become emerging concepts used in socio-ecological discourse.

Indigenous traditional knowledge is referred to as the rational knowledge system, and is increasingly being recognized as equal to scientific knowledge, in which Indigenous persons possess adaptive expertise embedded through intimate cultural relationships with their lands, passed on through generations.  The ecosystem services (ES) approach is an environmental management strategy that recognizes the provisioning, regulating, supporting and cultural benefits ecosystems provide for societies. The ES approach manages anthropogenic activities to seek coexistence with healthy and fully functioning ecosystems. An important variable of the ES approach is that this system seeks to rationalize the complex relationship between nature and humans by capturing intangible non-market values such as carbon
Photo courtesy of UNESCO.
sequestration within the economy to enhance validity of its use as a policy instrument. Therefore, international treaties and domestic policy instruments such as implementation of ITK and ecosystem services approaches play an important role in funding support, creating incentives and implementation of novel economic mechanisms to protect primary forests and the functions of their ecosystem services that benefit society. The ecosystem services approach strengthens sustainable policy as it educates the public about the trade-offs between human development and the conservation of the environment, using the ecosystem as an economic tool to enhance the resiliency of communities.

The protection of Pimachiowin Aki stands as an important Canadian historical planning movement. The region holds outstanding universal value, exemplifying the unification of under-represented individuals using their cultural distinctiveness and land expertise to protect the traditions, biodiversity and ecological processes in this region. The Canadian boreal ecosystem covers approximately 25 percent of the world’s remaining primary forest, acting as one of the world’s most efficient carbon sequestering systems, supports habitats for a diversity of species in the region, (such as some of the world’s largest northern mammals), and holds extensive cultural and recreational value for Indigenous and local communities. Pimachiowin Aki exemplifies Anishinaabeg First Nations peoples’ ability to adapt alongside the boreal forest across millennia, with traditional knowledge over generations contributing to the regions outstanding ecological success. Pimachiowin Aki is recognized as a noteworthy exemplar of incorporating Indigenous knowledge into modern-day science and policy as a progressive tool towards sustainable ecosystem management.

The views expressed in this blog post are those of the author(s), and may not reflect the position of the Ontario Professional Planners Institute.

Post by Angela Asuncion

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