Surveying the gymnasium at the Ktunaxa Nation government building in Cranbrook, Joe Pierre’s voice broke as he wrapped up a celebration marking the end of a decades-long battle to protect and conserve an area in the Purcell Mountains from a proposed ski resort development.
“This is for our children,” said Pierre, Nasuʔkin (chief) of the ʔaq̓am community.
Members of the Ktunaxa Nation, along with supporters from environmental groups and provincial and federal government representatives, gathered at the building for the formal announcement to protect Qat’muk, the site of the proposed development that has faced local opposition for nearly 30 years.
In the mountains west of Invermere, the Jumbo Valley and the surrounding area will fall under an Indigenous Protected and Conserved Area (IPCA) framework, as the Ktunaxa will take the lead on stewardship and conservation of the land in collaboration with all levels of government and other parties.
While Qat’muk is considered critical habitat for wildlife, it is also holds spiritual significance for the Ktunaxa as the home of the Grizzly Bear Spirit.
The gathering at the Ktunaxa Nation government building featured speeches from dignitaries, ceremonial songs, video presentations, and opportunities for public questions and comments.
At the Ktunaxa Nation Council building in Cranbrook, where a celebration is set to begin regarding the creation of the IPCA that will protect Qat’muk, a spiritually and biologically sensitive area in the Jumbo Valley west of Invermere. pic.twitter.com/GkKULfvpD6— Trevor Crawley (@tcrawls) January 18, 2020
Behind a pair of tables covered with grizzly bear hides, speakers delivered remarks at a podium to a packed gallery of supporters.
“Qat’muk, which includes the Jumbo Valley, will remain wild,” said Kathryn Teneese, chair of the Ktunaxa Nation Council, as the room erupted with cheers. “The Jumbo Glacier Resort, a source of great conflict for the last 30 years, will not be built now, or ever.”
Teneese thanked the federal and provincial governments. as well as the Nature Conservancy and private donors for financial contributions, but also noted that protecting Qat’muk wouldn’t have happened without the support of Ktunaxa citizens.
“I believe that we are doing something that is good because we are creating a legacy for our collective future and talking about trying to find a different place for human beings and their impacts on our earth,” she said. “We can’t control what anybody else does, but we can certainly control what we as human beings do, and I believe this is going to be an opportunity to be able to reflect that in a meaningful way.”
Speaking on behalf of the provincial government, Michelle Mungall, the MLA for Nelson-Creston, was visibly emotional while addressing the gallery, recalling the journey of fighting against the resort proposal while serving as a member of the Official Opposition for the last eight years.
She said everything changed following the 2017 provincial election, when the NDP formed government following an agreement with the Green Party.
“One of the first conversations I had with my colleagues was ‘What are we going to do about Qat’muk? What are we going to do about Jumbo?’ Because this is our opportunity to not just talk about reconciliation, but to do reconciliation,” Mungall said.
The province officially signed the agreement to buy out all tenures and interests from Glacier Resorts Ltd. on Nov. 15, 2019 through a separate agreement with the proponent and the Nature Conservancy of Canada, which acted on behalf of the Ktunaxa Nation.
“We’re doing this because it’s reconciliation in action, because it’s the right thing to do and because it’s time,” Mungall said.
Mungall added that the province is currently reviewing the necessary procedures required to dissolve the Jumbo Resort Resort Municipality, which was created in 2012 under the previous BC Liberal government.
Nancy Newhouse with the Nature Conservancy of Canada and Don McCormick, representing the Columbia Basin Trust, also delivered prepared remarks on behalf of their respective organizations.
All told, the federal government provided $16.2 million in funding, while a private consortium — including the Wyss Foundation, the Wilburforce Foundation, Patagonia,, Donner Canadian Foundation and the Columbia Basin Trust — contributed $5 million.
Amongst the Ktunaxa Nation citizens in the gallery, supporters included representatives from groups such as Wildsight, Jumbo Creek Conservation Society, Patagonia, the Wyss Foundation, R. K. Heliski, and many more.
“We’re overjoyed to finally see Ktunaxa authority over this sacred landscape recognized,” said John Bergenske, Wildsight’s Conservation Director, “and the end of nearly 30 years of conflict with developers determined to ignore the sacred and environmental importance of the Jumbo Valley.
“…Wildsight is looking forward to supporting the Ktunaxa Nation in protecting this special part of the central Purcell Mountains, now that their authority over Qat’muk has finally been recognized by the provincial and federal governments.”
Former Kootenay-Columbia MP Wayne Stetski, who served as a regional manager for the B.C. Ministry of Environment prior to his entry into politics, issued a statement celebrating the announcement.
“This is an important and historic step forward for both the Ktunaxa and the advancement of Indigenous protected areas in Canada,” said Stetski. “I am very pleased that the Liberal government federally, and the NDP government provincially, remain committed to what is a long-standing priority for me and for many of the citizens of the Kootenays - realizing the permanent protection of Qat’muk in the near future under the stewardship of the Ktunaxa nation.”
The idea of the IPCA was born out of the Canada Target 1,which is inspired by an international collection of conservation objectives set during a global convention in Japan ten years ago.
The Indigenous Circle of Experts (ICE) was created as part of developing the Canada Target 1 objectives, which aims to conserve 17 per cent of terrestrial areas and inland waters, and 10 per cent of marine areas by 2020. Input from ICE led to the establishment of the IPCA framework in 2018.
The federal government has committed $1.35 billion for conservation through the Canada Target 1 Challenge Fund, which announced 67 projects, including the establishment of 27 IPCAs, in August last year.
The dispute over a proposed ski resort in the Jumbo Valley dates back to 1991, when Glacier Resorts Ltd. filed their first proposal to pursue a development.
That touched off years of negotiations with the Ktunaxa and studies and plans needed to obtain the necessary permits.
In 2010, the Ktunaxa issued the Qat’muk Declaration, affirming the area’s religious significance and establishing a set of stewardship principles.
When the province approved a Master Development Plan in 2012, the Ktunaxa took the matter all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada, arguing the nation hadn’t been adequately consulted and that the development of the resort would violate their religious freedoms.
However, the Supreme Court of Canada majority opinion ruled against their case.
In a separate matter running concurrently, the province determined the project was not substantially started after an October 2014 deadline, which essentially revoked a Environmental Assessment Certificate — a permit required to pursue the development.
Glacier Resort filed a judicial review, which ruled in the company’s favour, however, it was overturned in the B.C. Court of Appeal after it was challenged by the provincial government.
By October 2014, on-site construction included the concrete floor slab of a day lodge, a concrete floor slab of a service building, foundation for chair lift anchors and various bridge structures and road work necessary to access the site.
However, aspects of the project were considered in non-compliance under the terms identified in the Environmental Assessment Certificate.
Glacier Resorts Ltd. envisioned a development with a ski base covering 105 hectares and ski-able terrain covering 5,000 hectares with elevations up to 3,400 metres.