A month ago the federal government sent a letter to the Ktunaxa First Nation Council advising it will give the First Nation millions in funding to help create an Indigenous protected and conservation area in Qat’muk, which includes the Upper Jumbo Valley.
The total amount is to be $16.1 million, spread over four years, and the news, reported in the Pioneer and other regional and national media outlets, spread rapidly around the Columbia Valley and the Kootenay, prompting many in the region to ask if this announcement is the final salvo in the decades-long battle over the fate of the Upper Jumbo Valley, which is also the site of the proposed Jumbo Glacier Resort. In recent weeks the Pioneer has contacted multiple people close to the issue to try to divine the announcement’s impact on the resort (which has been planned for almost three decades). Few were willing to speculate directly on Jumbo Glacier Resort, but several more details have emerged, including that existing land tenure holders in the area (Glacier Resorts Ltd. is one) would need to be “retired” and bought out; the legal battle over the 2015 cancellation of Glacier Resorts Ltd.’s environmental certificate for the resort is not over; and that the Ktunaxa hope to designate the Indigenous protected and conservation area (IPCA) boundaries, which would extend beyond just the core Qat’muk (Upper Jumbo Valley) area, within 15 months. In addition it has become clear that creating the IPCA will require coordinated efforts from the Ktunaxa, the federal government and the provincial government.
“The Ktunaxa Nation is working hard on this with a wide range of other parties and stakeholders. Our work remains founded on our 2010 Qat’muk Declaration. Our target is to formally designate — with boundaries — an IPCA, in collaboration with Canada and B.C., prior to December 2020, in accordance with Canada’s ‘Target One’ biodiversity commitment,” said Ktunaxa Nation Council Chair Kathryn Teneese. “The IPCA will be larger than and encompass the Qat’muk area. We will be making a major announcement of details of next steps toward this target and community and stakeholder engagement process in the next few months when we are in a position to do so.”
The Ktunaxa and the federal Ministry of Environment and Climate Change had discussed the idea of making an IPCA at Qat’muk for three years, prior to last month’s letter outlining the funding, Kootenay Columbia MP (and NDP Parks critic) Wayne Stetksi told the Pioneer.
Jumbo Glacier Resort architect Oberto Oberti did not comment directly on the federal funding for Qat’muk, but did confirm to the Pioneer that resort proponents plan to continue their legal case challenging former provincial Environment Minister Mary Polak’s decision that the resort was not substantially started by its October 2014 deadline and that consequently its environmental certificate was cancelled, taking the matter to the highest possible level by appealing to the Supreme Court of Canada. A B.C. Supreme Court judge ruled in favour of resort proponents in the first hearing of the case in 2018. The provincial Ministry of Environment appealed this result, and in earlier August this year, a panel of three B.C. Court of Appeals judges sided two-to-one with the ministry, upholding the non-substantial start. Mr. Oberti has indicated that the dissenting Court of Appeal judge’s opinions will form the basis of Glacier Resort Ltd.’s arguments to the Supreme Court of Canada.
“The funding is subject to the Ktunaxa and federal government signing a final agreement for the project,” said Mr. Stetski, adding steps likely to be included in the project are determining boundaries, conducting studies to assess ecological and cultural values, and “identifying which (existing) tenures would have to be retired and bought out.”
Asked specifically about the Glacier Resort Ltd. tenure, Mr. Stetski replied “that’s certainly part of it,” but declined to speculate on what price tag buying it out might carry or whether or not resort proponents would be amenable to a buy, or if they might seek to challenge the IPCA in court. Mr. Stetski pointed out there are many other tenures in the area (most of them mining and forestry related, but also heliskiing), saying “almost every inch of Crown land there is covered with tenure.”
When Glacier Resorts Ltd. first proposed Jumbo Glacier Resort 29 years ago, the issue was discussed only at the local and regional level, but by the mid-2000s the matter had became provincial, with major decision on the project coming from the B.C. Ministry of Environment, the B.C. Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations (FLNRO), and former B.C. Premier Christy Clark. The Ktunaxa elevated their longstanding opposition to a resort with the formal Qat’muk declaration in 2010, adding an Indigenous element of jurisdiction to the issue. This new announcement adds the federal government to the mix as well, which Mr. Stetski acknowledged means even more agencies must come to agreement.
“It’s (creating an ICPA in Qat’muk) a complicated process. The province still needs to be involved and has to agree to the final land use designation. So it will be a three-party decision: the Ktunaxa, the federal government and the provincial government will need to agree on what the IPCA will look like and will have to figure who will play what role,” he said. “Personally I am really excited to see it happening. I think this is the way of the future for national parks and protected areas in Canada.”
Mr. Stetski added that, given his past experience with parks (he is a former provincial parks manager), the four-year funding timeline “is probably right to determine boundaries, identify those environmental and cultural values, and identify the tenures (to be bought out)…I am hopeful we will have a IPCA in place, established in Qat’muk at the end of those four years.”
When asked whether changes in governments (a federal election will happen in less than a month and a provincial one in a year and a half) could disrupt the four-year timeline, Mr. Stetski said he couldn’t “speak to (that) directly.” Several other sources contacted for the story also all declined to proffer an opinion on what effect, if any, a change in government at either the national or provincial level could have on the proposed IPCA, just as almost none wanted to speak directly to the IPCA’s impact on Jumbo Glacier Resort. The sole person willing to offer a forthright opinion on that topic was environmentalist and Wildsight conservation director John Bergenske, who said “the opportunity for the Ktunaxa people to shape the future for the Jumbo Valley area is welcome news that signals that the proposed Jumbo Glacier Resort is dead.”
Columbia River-Revelstoke MLA Doug Clovechok told the Pioneer that “it (an IPCA) is certainly an interesting idea, but did added that “it is a bit unusual for the feds to jump in with a huge amount of money, if indeed the issue is going to be tied up in courts for a few more years. It is, however, an election year.” He added he hopes the funding offer is not just an election year treat, since that would be unfair to the Ktunaxa.
The Pioneer also sought comment from the federal Ministry of Environment and Climate Change (MECC), the provincial Ministry of Environment and FLNRO. The provincial Ministry of Environment and FLNRO did not outline what sort of role they might play in creating the proposed Qat’muk IPCA, deferring comment on Target 1 funded projects (such as the Qat’muk IPCA) to the federal MECC. The federal MECC did not respond to interview and comment request from the Pioneer.