Why Canadian First Nation Skiers Stopped the Largest Resort Development in Years

The decades-long battle against Jumbo Glacier Resorts is finally over

There is a concrete pad at the bottom of a class-four avalanche path in Jumbo Valley, British Columbia. After years of doubt, it is now certain that the slab will never become the foundation of Jumbo Glacier Resort, the massive, European-style destination village that Vancouver architect Oberto Olberti tried to develop for nearly three decades, despite opposition from the Ktunaxa Nation—which has seen 10,000 winters on this landscape—as well as environmental groups and a majority of local citizens.

The Ktunaxa Nation Council sealed that concrete slab’s fate on January 18, with an announcement that they had collaborated with the Government of Canada, the Province of British Columbia, and the Nature Conservancy of Canada to buy out the developer and extinguish development rights in the Jumbo Valley forever. Furthermore, the Ktunaxa Nation will immediately begin the process of creating an Indigenous Protected and Conserved Area in the Central Purcell Mountains of southeastern British Columbia.

At a celebration last weekend, Ktunaxa citizen activist Joe Pierre, who appears in the 2015 Patagonia film “Jumbo Wild,” said that even though there was talk about going up the valley when the snow melts and having a sledgehammer party to obliterate the concrete pad, he’d rather see it left alone.

That way, in 50 years, anybody could go up there to see a weathered monument commemorating the time the Ktunaxa protected Qat’muk, the sacred mountainous landscape encompassing the Jumbo Valley where the Grizzly Bear Spirit was born, goes to heal itself, and returns to the spirit world, as is written in the Qat’muk Declaration. The Declaration affirms the Ktunaxa’s covenant with their Creator to protect Qat’muk from permanent development, but perhaps, Pierre figures, this one piece of infrastructure could remain as a tribute to their resistance.

Corrie Walkley, a 47-year-old cattle rancher and former Ktunaxa governor, lives just outside of Kimberley. He’s not sentimental enough to be planning a visit to that slab, but he did share with POWDER his feelings on skiing, the Qat’muk victory, and what it means to him to connect to the mountains.

That’s a long tour [into Jumbo Valley] for one ride. I’m all about the ride. If I got the opportunity to go up there on a heli, I’d be there like flies to poop.

I’ve skied my whole life. When I was younger, I skied really hardcore. Then I realized that I was falling behind financially. [People my age] were buying homes, starting families. I stuck my nose in the grindstone. When [my 15-year-old son] Trent was about 5 or 6, he reinvigorated my pas-sion to ski. Especially on powder days.

It’s his passion. It’s his love. If he had his way, there’s be 365 days of winter here. Nothing would grow. He’s got his head so stuck in skiing, that’s all he wants to do. He specializes in moguls, that’s his discipline of choice. He also competes in slopestyle and big air, and he used to race. He’s on the Panorama Freestyle Ski Club.

I’ve never skied with anybody else Ktunaxa. We’re not this huge nation; we’re about 1,000 people. I am very proud that me and Trent are Ktunaxa and we are hardcore skiers. When we ski at Revelstoke, Whitewater, Kicking Horse, Fernie, Kimberly, I tell my son, “this land belongs to us. This is Ktunaxa territory. And you’re showing a presence, being a Ktunaxa person.”

To be brutally honest, I’m not a spiritual or religious person. I understand the significance of the Qat’muk and the Grizzly Spirit for our people, but I wasn’t raised with those same principles and values. With our First Nations’ spirituality, the government did a really good job at driving it un-derground. It was illegal for us to assemble. It was illegal for us to practice our religion, our spir-ituality. It stayed really strong in certain families. In other groups it didn’t as much.

When I became an ʔaq’am counsellor, I also became a governor of the Nation. [ʔaq’am is one of the four communities comprising the Ktunaxa Nation]. I was never a cultural leader, never a spiritual leader. I was an economic and financial leader who was pro-business and pro-business development so long as it aligned with Ktunaxa values that everything be done in a respectful manner, to take care of the earth. What I was told as a little boy was take only what you need and use what you take. I believe those things. The Ktunaxa believe everything is alive, the water and the rocks included.

With Jumbo, there wasn’t proper consultation [of the Ktunaxa people]. There wasn’t even consultation, never mind meaningful consultation.

[Trent] looked me in the eye, said, “Dad, if you think I’m going to run cows for a living, you’ve got another thing coming.” He said, “Dad, I’m going to ski for a living.” I made a deal with him: Me and your mom will fund your sport to exhaustion. If we catch you with drugs, catch you drinking, you’re cut off.

In 1996, I fell flat on my face with addiction. I made a change to get sober. What helped me commit, what gave me continuity, was skiing. [Addiction] is very common in First Nations country as a result of colonization. When I say “colonization,” I’m talking about everything—from the Indian Act to the reserve system to the residential school system. The whole caboodle.

Cattle ranching is one way I connect my spirit to the land. The mountains are the other way. We struggle as a Nation, as we move to this sophisticated technology society. How our we going to connect the spirit of the land to our youth?

Going back to Qat’muk, I’m glad for the people that have the spirituality, and for the leaders, that they were able to achieve this. It’s time for us to move forward and create our own destiny. For me and my household, powder turns and being the biggest pig at the trough really makes me happy.

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