Valuing the interlinkages between nature and culture in the planning and management of Pimachiowin Aki World Heritage Site, Canada

Hidehiro Otake
Published: 05 October 2020
Last edited: 24 June 2021
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Pimachiowin Aki (the Land That Gives Life) was inscribed in 2018 on the World Heritage List as Mixed Cultural and Natural Heritage under criteria (iii), (vi) and (ix). Composed of Atikaki Provincial Park, Woodland Caribou Provincial Park, the Eagle-Snowshoe Conservation Reserve, and four First Nations’ Traditional Use Planning Areas, Pimachiowin Aki, is an exceptional example of the global boreal biome and a cultural landscape that provides testimony to the tradition of Ji-ganawendamang Gidakiiminaan (Keeping the Land). Anishinaabe First Nations signed an Accord in 2002 to protect and care for ancestral lands and way of life, and to seek inscription of a World Heritage site. In 2006, First Nations and provincial governments created the Pimachiowin Aki Corporation, a not-for-profit charitable organization to prepare the nomination and develop a management plan according to principles of mutual respect and collaboration.


North America
Scale of implementation
Forest ecosystems
Freshwater ecosystems
Pool, lake, pond
River, stream
Temperate deciduous forest
Temperate evergreen forest
Wetland (swamp, marsh, peatland)
Ecosystem services
Indigenous people
Protected and conserved areas governance
Protected and conserved areas management planning
Sustainable livelihoods
Traditional knowledge
World Heritage
Increasing temperatures
Unsustainable harvesting incl. Overfishing
Infrastructure development
Lack of access to long-term funding
Changes in socio-cultural context
Lack of technical capacity
Lack of infrastructure
Unemployment / poverty
Sustainable development goals
SDG 10 – Reduced inequalities
SDG 11 – Sustainable cities and communities
SDG 13 – Climate action
SDG 15 – Life on land
SDG 17 – Partnerships for the goals
Aichi targets
Target 10: Ecosystems vulnerable to climate change
Target 18: Traditional knowledge
Target 19: Sharing information and knowledge


Little Grand Rapids, Manitoba, Canada | Ontario, Canada. The geographic coordinates near the centre of the Pimachiowin Aki World Heritage site are: Longitude 95°24'29''6W and Latitude 51°49'35''1N


Social challenges: potential loss of cultural identity and Anishinaabemowin (Ojibwe language); achieving unity and consensus on the vision of the future, values, planning goals and administrative boundaries; capacity to plan; recognition of traditional knowledge, beliefs and stewardship practices in decision-making processes.

Economic challenges: poverty; sustaining traditional livelihoods; food insecurity; community infrastructure including housing; local economic development and diversification that contributes to the well-being of the communities.

Environmental challenges: climate change; state of conservation monitoring and reporting; increased hunting and fishing pressure; legal recognition of, and compliance with, land management plans and zoning prescriptions.


Poplar River, Pauingassi, Little Grand Rapids, and Bloodvein River First Nations, Manitoba and Ontario Provinces, all generations of humanity, all gifts from the Creator.

How do the building blocks interact?

To protect Anishinaabe ancestral lands, respecting and using a land management and planning process based on Anishinaabe knowledge, beliefs and practices were fundamental. Land management and planning and World Heritage nomination processes enabled the recognition and valuing of these areas as a cultural landscape. The creation of the Pimachiowin Aki Corporation (BB1), a not-for-profit charitable corporation which involves First Nation and provincial governments was essential, especially in embarking on the World Heritage nomination process. Underpinning the process is the continuous and regular advice of Elders (BB2), which guide and still accompany the management and protection of the site. Based on these foundations, the establishment of a knowledge systems dialogue (BB3) was necessary for land management and planning to succeed, and to meet conditions of authenticity and integrity and requirements for protection and management for the nomination and ongoing management of the site. The involvement of Elders, youth and women (BB4) in the whole process ensures the sustainability of the solution. The development of a participatory monitoring system (BB5) supports the continuous promotion of Anishinaabe knowledge.


  • An integrated and adaptive management plan for the site, unifying 9 regional management plans, integrating customary governance, legal prescriptions and institutional arrangements across the World Heritage site to safeguard the integrity, authenticity and attributes that convey its Outstanding Universal Value.
  • International recognition of the Anishinaabe cultural tradition of caring for nature and the intergenerational transmission of knowledge, beliefs and practices.
  • Reinforcement of Anishinaabe cultural identity and empowerment of Indigenous youth and women.
  • Renewed and strengthened dialogue among First Nations communities and provincial governments.
  • Influence in the World Heritage system towards interlinking natural and cultural values in evaluation processes and acknowledging Indigenous peoples’ voices and ways of knowing in accordance with the principle of free prior and informed consent.
  • Request of advice by other State Parties to the World Heritage Convention. 


Pimachiowin Aki Corporation

Our people believe that our responsibility for taking care of the land came from The Creator.                                         

We still live by that knowledge and wisdom that was passed down to us by our ancestors.

We gain life, wisdom and knowledge from the land. We strongly believe that the land is very much alive and we need to acknowledge that life and spirituality of the land. Acknowledging the spirituality of the land sustains the health of our people and reminds us that we are inseparable from the land. One cannot survive without the other.

This knowledge has been passed down through oral history and it is our responsibility to ensure our knowledge and wisdom is passed on to the next generation.

We, as Anishinaabeg believe we do not own the land. It belongs to our future generations; therefore, we have to think very carefully about how the decisions we make today will affect the many generations to come.

In our Land Management Plans, the teachings that are imbedded within the documents are very ancient. The Plans are living documents that carry those teachings into the next generation.

Our people have been practicing land use planning for thousands of years. They never left any traces of destruction or caused the extinction of any species. We knew that we depended on our land for our survival.

Today, we are recognizing just how important our lands and teachings are to us. We as Anishinaabe people have endured the effects of colonization and assimilation. We are at the brink of losing our language, culture and identity.  We understood our Elders who told us that in order for us to heal we needed to go back to the land to restore the balance within our community. We need to teach our young people - our children and grandchildren - the importance of the sacred relationship our people have with the land.  They need to understand the spiritual connection our people have with the land and the life that surrounds us.

Everything that our ancestors used from the land was treated with respect.  To me, that is my true definition of land use planning. Our spiritual beliefs need to be acknowledged and included in anything we do as Anishinaabeg. (Sophia Rabliauskas, 2015, Poplar River First Nation community member)

Contributed by

alison_39013's picture

Pimachiowin Aki Pimachiowin Aki Corporation

Other contributors

Maya Ishizawa
ICCROM-IUCN World Heritage Leadership