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Supreme Court of Canada deals blow to Ktunaxa Nation Council Jumbo fight

The Ktunaxa Nation will continue to move forward, trying to determine the next steps.

The road to a private resort being constructed on Jumbo Glacier in the BC Interior just got a little smoother for Jumbo Glacier Resort after the Supreme Court of Canada dismissed an appeal by the Ktunaxa Nation Council in a ruling released Thursday.

The Supreme Court of Canada, in a landmark 7-2 decision, declined to grant special protection for religious freedom for aboriginal peoples.

"In this case, the Ktunaxa’s claim does not fall within the scope of s. 2 (a) because neither the Ktunaxa’s freedom to hold their beliefs nor their freedom to manifest those beliefs is infringed by the Minister’s decision to approve the project," the Supreme Court decision said.

The decision opens the door for the ruling that a private ski resort in British Columbia can be built on a site sacred to an Indigenous community.

"That's the task that was given to us by the creator and no one else can take that away from us," said Ktunaxa Nation Council Chair Kathryn Teneese said Thursday. "

“We will move forward, trying to determine what our next steps will be."

For the past 20 years, Glacier Resorts Ltd has been trying to build North America’s only year-round glacier based resort based in the Purcell Mountains, 57 kilometers west of Invermere, on the site of an old sawmill.

The completed ski resort will feature up to 23 lifts, a 5500-bed resort, plus 750 beds for staff; a 3,000-metre-high gondola and spectacular world-class views for between 2,000 to 3,000 visitors a day in high season.

The project has faced many challenges and protests during the past 20 years.

Wildsight,  an environmental group in the East Kootenay with its main goal to protect biodiversity and encourage sustainable communities in Canada’s Columbia and Rocky Mountain region, said in a release it is deeply saddened by the Supreme Court ruling that fails to recognize indigenous spiritual rights connected to sacred places in Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

“Wildsight supports the Ktunaxa Nation’s call for an indigenous protected area to permanently protect the spiritual and ecological values of Qat’muk,” said Robyn Duncan, Executive Director of Wildsight.

“We can’t think of a better end to the 26-year fight to keep Jumbo wild than all governments coming together to establish an indigenous protected area, setting a bold precedent for reconciliation through conservation.”

Duncan said Qat’muk, in BC’s Central Purcell mountains, is the spiritual home of the grizzly bear spirit for the Ktunaxa and it is critical habitat for grizzly bears, wolverines and other wildlife travelling through the relatively-undeveloped Purcell mountains.

 Wildsight supports the Ktunaxa call for protection of Qat’muk, including not only the core area of the upper Jumbo Valley, but the broader landscape surrounding it in the Central Purcells.

“Environmental conservation must respect First Nations’ traditional use rights and spiritual values, while also protecting ecological and wilderness values,” says Duncan, “Conservation can be an act of reconciliation if it’s led by First Nations.”

The Surpreme Court decision does not mean the Jumbo Glacier Resort will be built.

The resort development requires an Environmental Certificate to proceed. Glacier Resorts’ Environmental Certificate was cancelled after their failure to substantially begin development in the certificate’s 10-year term.

The developers are currently prohibited by the BC Environmental Assessment Office from any construction activities for the Jumbo Glacier Resort.
Duncan said despite the Supreme Court decision, now is the time for both federal and provincial governments to work to establish an indigenous protected area with the Ktunaxa.

“All the pieces are in place to make Qat’muk a model for indigenous protected areas in Canada: strong local support for protection, the BC NDP and Green Party’s stances against the project and the federal government’s commitment to reconciliation with First Nations and to increase protection of Canada’s landscape through Canada Target One,” says Duncan.

“With the disappointing Supreme Court decision out of the way, now is the time for all levels of government to get to work to protect Qat’muk through an indigenous protected area.”