Pimachiowin Aki Inscribed

The UNESCO World Heritage Centre has at last inscribed Pimachiowin Aki, the decision being made at the 42nd session in Manama, Bahrain, June 24–July 4, 2018 (Decision 42 COM 8B.11, extracted from the full Committee decision document, pp. 193–197).

The decision concludes with a fairly atypical note acknowledging the difficult road to inscription and the changes made to World Heritage processes as a result:

[UNESCO] Expresses its deep appreciation for the combined efforts of the First Nations, working with provincial governments and the State Party, and for the joint dialogue undertaken with IUCN and ICOMOS, in deepening the understanding of nature-culture connections in the context of the World Heritage Convention, and for presenting a revised nomination which is a landmark for properties nominated to the World Heritage List through the commitment of indigenous peoples”.

In addition to the innovations in understanding and evaluating mixed World Heritage sites — see post “Pimachiowin Aki nomination drives innovation in World Heritage” — notable outcomes for the future evaluation of cultural World Heritage are:

  1. Identification of the Pimachiowin Aki comparative analysis as a model for other similar sites; and,
  2. Identification of additional future potential indigenous sites to be inscribed in the north (Subarctic).

Comparative Analysis
Comparative analysis is required to demonstrate a site has the strongest claim to Outstanding Universal Value (OUV), and therefore World Heritage recognition, among all similar sites. The Pimachiowin Aki comparative analysis was difficult to conduct from the beginning because the World Heritage Convention, being a land- and sea-based convention, is very focused on tangible “things”; arguing for the World Heritage value of cultural values that are not manifest in enduring, built artifice was difficult.

The International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS), in their 2018 Evaluation, commented:

There are very few models for comparative analyses for properties of indigenous values especially in which there is not substantial tangible built evidence or landscape modification and where the landscape is considered ‘natural’. The Pimachiowin Aki nomination has developed a framework for such comparative analyses which is helpful but has some limitations – especially in terms of the lack of cultural documentation in some sites selected for comparison” (25).

That lack of cultural documentation with which to make comparisons is understandable since, (a) indigenous peoples are wary, for good historical reasons, to publicly share their documented cultural values, and (b) indigenous peoples need to make deliberate, proactive efforts to document most cultural values since land use planning processes typically only consider (and document) archaeological sites (e.g., gravesites, relict habitation sites, and pictographs). Comparisons based on documented living tangible values such as sacred sites, active cabins, harvest sites, and named/storied places, was necessary to demonstrate Outstanding Universal Value — it is a requirement of the World Heritage process — but some comparative sites either didn’t have that information or were not willing to share it.

Future Potential Inscriptions
As a requirement of comparative analysis, an appropriate international geo-cultural area for comparison has to be delimited. For Pimachiowin Aki, comparison was most appropriate in the North American Subarctic (essentially the northern boreal zone). A potential outcome of Pimachiowin Aki’s successful inscription would be that future inscription of indigenous sites based on cultural traditions would be extremely difficult. Pimachiowin Aki filled an important gap in World Heritage; the question now is: what gaps are left for other indigenous peoples to fill?

World Heritage documentation and guidance for the Pimachiowin Aki comparative analysis was extremely thin. In many cases, comparison is guided by existing thematic studies, such as Cultural Landscapes of the Pacific Islands (Anita Smith and Kevin L. Jones. 2007. Paris: UNESCO). Such studies are identified as important background information for comparative analysis (Operational Guidelines: 30, para. 122; Preparing World Heritage Nominations, 2011: 12, 114).

Recognising the limitations of existing documentation on cultural traditions from a World Heritage perspective, ICOMOS acknowledged that there are cultural similarities across the North American Subarctic but the inscription of Pimachiowin Aki should not rule out other future inscriptions in that area:

ICOMOS considers that what is clear from the work undertaken is that ideas similar to the Keeping the Land concept are common across the vast area of the American North Subarctic. However the detailed data to support understanding of precisely how communities relate to their environment and have done so over time remains patchy at best . . . ICOMOS considers that the analysis justifies consideration of Pimachiowin Aki for the World Heritage List . . . but that it should not be considered as representing the cultural landscapes of the whole of the American sub-arctic region. . . . other landscapes of other communities might provide different but also exceptional responses to this key philosophy [Keeping the Land]" (25–27).

Inscription of Pimachiowin Aki has not, for now, ruled out other indigenous World Heritage sites based on living cultural traditions of Outstanding Universal Value. But ICOMOS has suggested a regional thematic study is first needed:

ICOMOS considers that further studies should be undertaken on the way landscape reflects the important cultural systems that characterise the many indigenous communities of the American sub-Arctic region, before any further sites are considered for nomination” (26).

Mixed Indigenous World Heritage Sites
Pimachiowin Aki is the first Mixed (natural and cultural) World Heritage Site in Canada. There are only three other Mixed sites in North America: the recently-inscribed (and largely relict) Papahānaumokuākea (Hawaiian) in the United States, and in Mexico the relict sites of Ancient Maya City and Protected Tropical Forests of Calakmul, Campeche (Maya) and Tehuacán-Cuicatlán Valley: originary habitat of Mesoamerica. Other notable indigenous World Heritage Sites include: Historic Sanctuary of Machu Picchu, Peru (Inca), Tikal National Park, Guatemala (Maya), Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, Australia (Anangu), Tongariro National Park, New Zealand (Maori), and Laponian Area, Sweden (Saami).

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