07 December 2010

Jumbo Glacier Resort and Qat’muk on Redeye

On Saturday, 4 December 2010, on the Vancouver Cooperative Radio program Redeye, Jane Williams interviewed, first, Robyn Duncan, Purcell Program Manager, Wildsight, and, second, Kathryn Teneese, Chair, Ktunaxa Nation Council. Topics discussed included the proposed Jumbo Glacier Resort, its potentially adverse impacts on grizzly bears, the Ktunaxa sacred site known as Qat’muk, and the Qat’muk Declaration.

Here are snippets of the interviews:

Jane Williams: “Now, this Jumbo Glacier ski resort would be built 55 km west of Invermere. Can you describe the terrain and environment in the area that would be affected?”

Robyn Duncan: “Sure. So, you’re correct. It would be located 55 km west of Invermere. And it’s accessible at this point only by a very rough forest service road. They have the four season ski resort planned for four glaciers. So we’re talking about very, what I would call, gnarly and extremely beautiful terrain of the four glaciers: Jumbo Glacier, Karnak Glacier, Commander Glacier and Farnham Glacier.”

JW: “What kind of development would that ski hill bring to the area?”

RD: “Well, in full build-out they plan to have more than 20 lifts to access these four glaciers, build more than 6000 beds to host staff and visitors, and host a myriad number of townhouses, condominiums and other forms of permanent residences.”

JW: “Wow! That’s a tremendous amount of development in that area.”

RD: “It is indeed.”

JW: “What do we know about the importance of the area for the grizzly bear population?”

RD: “Well, we’ve always recognized this area as extremely important for wildlife, in particular for the grizzly bear, to function both as core habitat and as wildlife corridor. There was recent data released this summer by Doctor Michael Proctor, an internationally renowned grizzly bear biologist, which solidifies this and highlights the absolute critical importance of maintaining the grizzly bear population not only in Jumbo Creek and its adjacent watersheds but all around. His data shows us that the Jumbo Creek grizzly bear is really critical to maintaining the populations in the entire Purcell Mountain Range.”

JW: “And why is it so critical?”

RD: “Any large scale development, like the proposed Jumbo Glacier Resort, would seriously fragment the wildlife habitat around the area and it would challenge the ability of the grizzly bear to move both north and south. In fact, there’s only two viable trans-boundary wildlife corridors for species like the grizzly bear and the wolverine to cross back and forth across the Canadian-US border and the Purcell Mountain corridor is one of these. It is for this reason that the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative also considers the Purcell Mountains one of its priority working areas. So really the Jumbo Glacier Resort would seriously fragment the ability of the grizzly bear to move north and south along the mountain range.”

Jane Williams: “Now, it’s [i.e. the opposition to the project is] interesting because often in these kinds of situations there will be a conflict of interest of the local people who need jobs and people who want to preserve the environment. But that’s not the case in this situation?”

Robyn Duncan: “That’s not the case in this situation at all. Like I said, there has been steadfast opposition from the beginning, from the local population.”

JW: “And why is it they haven’t wanted those jobs that the resort construction would bring in?”

RD: “Well, the East and West Kootenay regions already host a large number of ski resorts and they’re all struggling to be economically viable. The main reason that they do maintain viability economically is through real estate sales. And first off, the people in the Kootenay region don’t want to see another ski resort in the area. We think that if we are going to invest in developing ski resorts, we should focus on those that are already there, in operation. And secondly, if the Jumbo Glacier Resort was to be approved there would no doubt be an influx of short term construction jobs. But I stress that it would be short term jobs only and based on the models that have been used at other ski resorts in our areas, we see that they frequently bring in construction firms from other cities. So it doesn’t mean these jobs are necessarily going to benefit our local community.”

JW: “Now, opponents of a proposed resort near Squamish have claimed that the resort is not viable and they say that it’s really a land grab to build expensive condos. Is there any sense that a similar motivation is behind this development?

RD: “Indeed there is. Like I say, ski resorts maintain their economic viability through real estate sales. So using the term “land grab” would not be far off at all for this situation either.”

Jane Williams: “Now, why is the area that’s being threatened with development important to you?”

Kathryn Teneese: “Well, it’s a critical part of our territory that holds – I guess, that could be considered to be the holder of - some spiritual values that are very important to us.”

JW: “Tell me a little bit more about that?”

KT: “Well, the area that’s known as Qat’muk is the home of not only the physical grizzly bear but also the home of what we call the Grizzly Bear Spirit, which in our belief is the strongest spiritual guide of the Ktunaxa Nation. And so, it’s obviously something that we want to ensure that is afforded protection, as much as we possibly can, given the amount of involvement, the infringement, or desecration even, that has taken place already.”

JW: “So, it’s much more than just a large predator in the area that you hope to preserve. It’s deeply important to your culture?”

KT: “Yes. It’s something that we as Ktunaxa people are very protective of in terms of our spirituality. And that’s part of the reason we haven’t spoken of it prior to now because we had expected that the information that had been provided through the various processes that your earlier guest spoke about that would have been sufficient for the government to come to a conclusion that the idea of a development in that area was not viable and didn’t make a whole lot of sense. However, when it became apparent to us that that wasn’t carrying the day and was obviously not being given the level of consideration that it should have been - that we had from the beginning identified the area as an area of spiritual importance, however we have not elaborated because that is not something that we do.”

JW: “What led to a decision to take a declaration to Victoria?”

KT: “Well, we were sort of watching the developments as they were unfolding and the messaging that we were getting seemed to lead to a conclusion that the government was moving down the road towards approval. And we felt, well, we need to be very – crystal - clear where we stand in terms of involvement in that part of our territory, whether it’s this project or any other kind of activity that is in opposition to what we identified as principles in our Declaration and accompanying stewardship principles. So we thought, well, we better be very clear, we’re going out on a limb, and we’re putting on the record for all to see, our connection to that place and what we are prepared to do in order to ensure the protection of that place.”

JW: “Now, as you say, you set out stewardship principles and some explicit environmental approaches. What is your plan for Qat’muk?”

KT: “Well, that’s what we’ve identified in our Declaration. We’ve indicated that we are prepared to sit down with whoever is interested in developing a management plan. But we want to ensure that the key areas that we identified as the Refuge Area and the Buffer Zone, that the integrity of those places is protected as best we can. And that’s not to say that other activities cannot occur within the area known as Qat’muk. But we want to ensure that the concerns that we have are taken into consideration as we move forward.”

JW: “What does your declaration say about the proposed development of a ski hill?”

KT: “We don’t really make specific reference because it’s not just about the ski hill. Obviously, the proposed ski hill is in the area. But we are speaking to Qat’muk as it relates to our right as a nation of people to protect and to afford protection to areas that are of spiritual concern to us, as referenced, for example, in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.”

Jane Williams: “What kind of support do you need from both other governments and from non-government organizations, from people listening to you right now?”

Kathryn Teneese: “Well, what we’re looking for is for people to inform themselves about who we are, number one, and our relationship to our territory. And develop and build an understanding of why we’re bringing forward the information that we have brought forward and hoping that we can work with others in terms of ensuring that the stewardship responsibilities that we have as Ktunaxa people in relation to our homeland, that we can indeed fulfill our obligations that have been given to us as part of who we are as a people and our connection to our territory.”

For both interviews in full, see here.

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