The fight of the Ktunaxa Nation

The call of the wild

Layla Kadri // Columnist

In this column, I’ve written about how connecting with the outdoors through recreation, education and immersion can bring an opportunity for healing, growth, wellness, stress relief and a deeper connection to nature. Aboriginal people have been doing this for thousands of years.

The Ktunaxa Nation has called the Purcell Mountains home for almost 10,000 years. Their connection to this land goes beyond the scope of what is currently understood by our judicial system, as well as our broader Canadian culture. Qat’mak, also known as Jumbo Valley, is the land where the Grizzly Bear Spirit lives, and for the Ktunaxa, this is a land they are spiritually connected to.

Twenty-six years ago, when a 6800-bed, year-round ski resort was proposed in the valley without consultation with First Nations of the area, the Ktunaxa connected with local Kootenay communities, government, conservationists, backcountry skiers and grizzly bear scientists to combat the development project. They have been fighting ever since.

Early this month, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled against the Ktunaxa Nation Council’s appeal opposing the resort development on this land. This means that indigenous spiritual rights connected to a sacred place are not protected under Section 2 of our Charter of Rights and Freedoms. This section of the Constitution includes fundamental freedoms such as freedom of expression, religion and belief.

Wilderness, for many of us, is an area without ski lifts. Wilderness is an area that is virtually untouched by humans, yet can give us that inexplicable inner self-awareness. For the Ktunaxa, this wild space is where they honour the Grizzly Bear Spirit, who has danced there for almost 10,000 years.

The Ktunaxa have made clear that this land is sacred – a word not lightly used. This land is “necessary to the manifestation of their religious faith.” In “Are They Like Us Yet?” a 2011 article by Marc Fonda, he wrote, “For Aboriginal persons, land is not merely material, and nature is not merely natural. Both have spiritual dimensions.”

The Court sidestepping an active acknowledgement of Aboriginal spirituality under the protection of the Constitution reminds us that many people, including the Canadian Government, too often see Reconciliation as a noun instead of a verb. Reconciliation is a journey, and like every journey, it is continued by the action of taking steps forward.

Many Ktunaxa community members have spoken out about the loss of culture they will suffer upon this resort’s approval and the verdict of the case are reminiscent of the indoctrination and suppression of beliefs that Canada’s residential system caused.

But this is not the end of the fight to Keep Jumbo Wild. To begin construction, the developers still face many blockades. The Ktunaxa Nation, along with new provincial government parties opposed to the development, passionate locals supporting protection and conservation organizations such as Wildsight, will continue to fight to protect this land.

The Central Purcells are some of the most beautiful ancient peaks in British Columbia. They’re a keystone area for animal migration routes and habitat – they are home to old growth forests, alpine meadows and glaciers. They provide travellers and locals with an escape to a wild area for a true connection to nature therapy in one of its fullest forms. And it is home to the Ktunaxa Nation.

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