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First Nations say gondola delay by B.C. 'amounts to disrespect'

'Despite fulfilling every request in their opaque and shape-shifting approval process, they continue to delay,' says Cheam chief
Cheam Chief Darwin Douglas (right) announced earlier this year that Cheam First Nation had purchased the Bridal Falls Golf Course. (Darwin Douglas/Facebook)

A group of Chilliwack-area First Nations are putting pressure on the province to approve their Cascade Skyline Gondola project.

Leaders of Cheam First Nation, Skwah First Nation, and Kwa-kwa-a-pilt First Nation have sent a letter to provincial officials mapping out frustration with what they characterize as "ongoing lack of action" on their proposal.

“The B.C. Government has been stalling and creating additional hurdles for the past six years, rather than letting us create hundreds of jobs for Indigenous and non-Indigenous people in the Fraser Valley,” said Cheam Chief Darwin Douglas in a June 24 news release.

Changes were made to reduce the Cascade project footprint from an environmental perspective, and eliminate any overlap with other nations or other proposals, thinking that might spur action on the project - to no avail.

“Despite fulfilling every request in the B.C. Government’s opaque and shape-shifting approval process, they continue to delay,” Douglas said. “This amounts to disrespect and is the opposite of reconciliation.”

A former golf course site was also purchased by Cheam First Nation for the project base, just east of Chilliwack.

"The project is now exclusively within the traditional territory of the Cheam and Pelólxw peoples," Douglas said.

Particularly galling for proponents of the Cascade project is how provincial officials have unofficially pointed to the larger ski hill proposal, Bridal Veil Mountain Resort (BVMR), as one reason for the delay in the permitting process.

But at this point the BVMR is opposed by the majority of First Nations and local governments since that project's first iteration 20 years ago, Douglas said.

For its part BVMR is described as "a multi-phase development," and the project website states: "Bridal Veil Mountain Resort would be built in stages. The first phase is an eco-friendly gondola that will rise 1,480 meters (sic) above Chilliwack, offering breath-taking 360-degree views of the Fraser Valley and Cascade Mountain Range.
Future phases of BVMR call for a "world-class, four-season destination resort" with "a second gondola added to whisk guests to a vehicle-free mountain recreation area hidden 1,200 meters (sic) above the Fraser Valley. In winter, guests will be able to ski or snowboard, backcountry tour, cross-country ski, skate, snowshoe, go tubing or sightsee."

The Cascade proponents have advised provincial officials they have concerns about the environmental impacts of BVMR, including significant water use for snow-making machines and "other negative, long-term effects on our lands that you would expect a large 18-lift industrial ski resort would have," Douglas said.

The lighter footprint of Cascade is significant in that it's "designed to be an eco-cultural tourism destination with one lift" and overall the project is geared to "help protect and enhance our lands" while providing accessible transportation to "bring people safely above the Fraser Valley to enjoy the Cascade Mountains in our traditional territory.”

Cascade proponents said they are planning a smaller project footprint and fewer infrastructure requirements with one gondola instead of two, and no new roads, the letter underlines.

A key aspect is the plan for a Stó:lō cultural interpretive centre to showcase First Nations history and culture on lands of the former Bridal Falls Golf course, recently purchased by Cheam First Nation to cement its role as an equity partner.

The First Nations leadership backing the Cascade project have also been observing the political landscape in B.C., noting a disconnect between vision and action.
“We don’t appreciate government platitudes about reconciliation, especially when it’s not matched by meaningful action,” said Skwah chief Johnathan Prest of Skwah First Nation.
They are urging decisive action by B.C. to get things going.

“We look forward to inviting everyone to the interpretive centre, as well as to the mountains,” Chief Randy Leon, Kwa-kwa-a-pilt First Nation, adding six years is too long.

Support for the Cascade project is on record from the City of Chilliwack Mayor and Council and District of Kent Mayor and Council, Tourism Ch'illiwack, Indigenous Tourism BC, and the Tourism Industry Association of BC. Several other entities have also gone on record supporting the project, and no other proposals have this level of support, he said.

“In the strongest possible terms, we urge the Government of B.C. to immediately approve our project and allow it to move forward for the benefit of our people, their economic and cultural futures, and the benefit of the broader Fraser Valley community," Douglas concluded.

Jennifer Feinberg

About the Author: Jennifer Feinberg

I have been a Chilliwack Progress reporter for 20+ years, covering city hall, Indigenous, business, and climate change stories.
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