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Newest inscription on the UNESCO World Heritage List comes to Alberta while others still at risk

By Drew Thomas, July 23 2019 —

On July 6, Alberta welcomed its sixth UNESCO World Heritage site at Writing-On-Stone/Áísínai’pi Provincial Park. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization inscribed Writing-On-Stone/Áísínai’pi at the 43rd session of the World Heritage Committee in Azerbaijan. 

UNESCO bases their assessment of World Heritage sites on proof of outstanding universal value, taking into account 10 criteria and proof of conservation ability by the state party. This site joins others like Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump, Dinosaur Provincial Park and Waterton Glacier, definitively making Alberta the province with the most internationally recognized heritage sites, followed distantly by Newfoundland and Labrador which has four sites.

Writing-On-Stone/Áísínai’pi Provincial Park is made up of a significant concentration of First Nations petroglyphs adjacent to the Milk River in Southern Alberta. The petroglyphs represent a large cache with minor modern interference. The designation comes after 22 years of work starting with a 1997 Park Management plan indicating the intent. Since the early 2000s, Writing-On-Stone/Áísínai’pi Provincial Park has been on the tentative list of sites for Canada. The current application from 2018 highlighted management and cooperation by the province’s provincial park authority and local Blackfoot groups as key to its conservation.

“Writing-on-Stone/Áísínai’pi is the site of many natural wonders and a testament to the remarkable ingenuity and creativity of the Blackfoot people,” said Jason Nixon, Minister of Environment and Parks, in a press release, “It’s easy to see why the site is seen by many as an expression of the confluence of the spirit and human worlds. I hope all Albertans will take the time to explore this extraordinary part of the province and all it has to offer.”

Alberta has a long history of inclusion on UNESCO World Heritage lists starting with Dinosaur Provincial Park in 1979 as recommended by Parks Canada. Alberta boasts both cultural and natural landscape inclusions with sites managed provincially, federally and in partnership with local Indigenous groups.

This news comes while a report on Wood Buffalo National Park (WBNP) — another Alberta UNESCO site — by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) from 2016 indicated deficiencies in the conservation of the site in areas such as “meaningful involvement of Aboriginal Peoples” and “exemption of proposals for very large and complex projects from fundamental components of established, and in principle legally required review process as a function of political decisions.” 

The park, which is managed federally, was not recommended for the UNESCO World Heritage in Danger list as of the 2016 report but “…should be given one opportunity under the World Heritage Convention to immediately develop a structured and adequately funded action plan..” and “…absence of a major and coherent response would constitute a case for recommending inscription of WBNP on the List of World Heritage in Danger…” An updated report is due to UNESCO in December 2020. 

For more information on the newest Alberta UNESCO World Heritage Site or Wood Buffalo National Park can be found online.  

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