Jumbo: Sacred land or ski resort?

This story originally appeared on Newschoolers. Words by Emily Renly.

Deep in the heart of the Canadian Rockies are the Purcell Mountains. The remote location is home to pristine glaciers and an abundance of wildlife, undeveloped by humans. It’s a location backcountry skiers cherish to escape the commodity of resorts. Many learned about the area through the Patagonia and Sweetgrass film Jumbo Wild, a documentary that explores the proposed Jumbo Glacier Ski Resort development. A plan that, since 1991, has faced over two decades of protests.

jumbo: sacred land or ski resort

Photo: Patagonia

The strongest opposition has come from Ktunaxa First Nations. Qat’muk, the Ktunaxa name for Jumbo Valley, is the sacred home of the grizzly bear spirit. The Ktunaxa opposition is based on the theological argument that developing the area into a resort would cause the spirit to permanently flee, whitch would be irreversibly damaging to Ktunaxa religious beliefs and practices. Their case was brought to the Supreme Court, with a focus on how the Canadian Constitution guarantees religious freedom.

In early November, CBC announced that the Supreme Court had come to a final ruling. The judges unanimously voted that development in the Qat’muk area would not violate the Ktunaxa’s right to religious freedom since the constitution “does not extend to the protection of sacred sites.” Mark Waggoner, a Sweetgrass producer for Jumbo Wild, expressed his distaste in a passionate Facebook post. Patagonia also displayed their disappointment in the ruling through social media.

Since the release of our film Jumbo Wild in 2015, we've been supporting the campaign to keep the Jumbo Valley of British Columbia free from development. Today, we are deeply disappointed by the Supreme Court of Canada's ruling on the Ktunaxa Nation's case critical to protect Qat'muk [Jumbo] and the grizzly bear spirit. Today, we stand in solidarity with the Ktunaxa Nation and join them as they now pursue an indigenous protected area. While this case was also instrumental in the push to stop the Jumbo Glacier Resort development in the valley, this is not over – the Jumbo Glacier Resort has not won. Now is the time to push the federal and provincial Canadian government to work with the Ktunaxa to permanently protect Qat'muk to keep Jumbo wild. #keepjumbowild Photo: @soglephoto

A post shared by Patagonia Snow (@patagonia_snow) on

Kathyrn Tennessee, a member of the Ktunaxa Nation Council Chair gave the following statement as part of the official media release.

“With this decision, the Supreme Court of Canada is telling every indigenous person in Canada that [their] culture, history and spirituality, all deeply linked to the land, are not worthy of legal protection from the constant threat of destruction.”

jumbo sacred land or ski resort

Photo: Jumbo Wild

Many thought the chance to build Jumbo Glacier Ski Resort had ended with the expiration of their environmental certificate in 2016. The developers of Jumbo have more recently focused on creating an alternative mega-resort in Valemount, near Jasper National Park. Here, there has been little public protest. Locals, environmentalists and the Simpcw First Nation have all support the development of Valemount Glacier Resort. At this point, why continue the battle for Jumbo?

The court ruling could, however, manifest into another push for development in Jumbo Valley, as well as pave the way for the development of other sacred lands in Canada. If the Jumbo plans were scaled-back, then development could actually begin without an environmental certificate. The ruling begs the question: Should the developers respect the beliefs of indigenous peoples, or use the recent ruling to continue forward with the plans for Jumbo?

More from Newschoolers:

How skier Julian Carr tackled a 210-foot cliff