Hidden deep beneath the Purcell powder in the Jumbo Valley sit meagre concrete slabs, the abandoned foundations of the Jumbo Glacier Resort. They are the remnants of a last-ditch effort by Glacier Resorts to officially start construction on their ski resort before their environmental certificate expired.
Nothing about the Jumbo Glacier Resort project has ever made sense in the 25 years locals have been fighting it. British Columbia doesn’t need another ski resort, especially one in the middle of the wild Purcell Mountains, a region where every town already has its own ski hill. What we need is wilderness, respect for the Ktunaxa’s sacred values and space to allow grizzly bears to roam.
Since Patagonia released the feature film Jumbo Wild in October 2015, more than 56,000 people from around the world have signed Wildsight’s petition calling for permanent protection of the Jumbo Valley. There have been over 200 screenings of the film worldwide, and within weeks of its release it was among the top ten most viewed on Netflix in both Canada and the USA. Through our partnership with Patagonia, we took our decades-long local campaign onto the global stage—and people from all over the world came to love our special valley.
For the Ktunaxa, the indigenous people who have called the Kootenay-Columbia region of British Columbia home for more than 10,000 years, Qat’muk, the Jumbo Valley, is the sacred home of kⱡawⱡa tukⱡuⱡakʔis, grizzly bear spirit. A resort built in the middle of this sacred place would desecrate it.
For 25 years, Wildsight has worked alongside the Ktunaxa. For the past few years, I have been honoured to attend the Ktunaxa’s annual Qat’muk Camp in the Jumbo Valley. Before this year’s spirit circle, we hiked up to Jumbo Pass. Surrounded by wildflowers and a 360-degree view of the Purcell Mountains, we needed no words to voice our emotional and spiritual connections to this sacred place.
On December 1, the Ktunaxa were heard in Canada’s Supreme Court, claiming protection for their spiritual beliefs and sacred places under Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms—the first case of its kind in Canada. As the Jumbo Wild campaign lead for Wildsight, I travelled to Ottawa to stand in solidarity with the Ktunaxa and to mark the beginning of an overdue conversation in Canada about how we recognize indigenous spiritual rights. A decision is expected in the spring of 2017 and while the case could be decided either way, a number of recent Supreme Court Charter cases have affirmed indigenous rights in Canada. This decision will determine how we respect sacred lands across the nation.
Back home in the Kootenays, some have argued that the Jumbo Wild campaign has been divisive, splitting our communities apart. But the truth is that the fight to protect has brought our communities together in new ways, building new bridges between skiers and conservationists, tourism operators and hunters, and the Ktunaxa. Together we are laying our own foundations for the long-term protection of the Jumbo Valley and building a new conservation model that respects indigenous spiritual values, the local community, wildlife, water, wilderness and low-impact recreation.
Our campaign has shifted from a simple no to a resounding yes—yes to wild places, yes to sacred spaces, yes to clean water and yes to freedom for wildlife to roam.
More than 40 years ago, Wildsight’s founders created the Purcell Wilderness Conservancy. Even today, it remains the largest protected area in southern BC, a reservoir of wilderness and wildlife and part of a critical international wildlife corridor. Just to the north, the Jumbo area is the missing piece for wildlife connectivity and wilderness protection in the Purcells.
The campaign to keep Jumbo Wild has been going on for 25 years and we can all feel the change coming. It’s not a question of if the resort will be built, but when it will finally be officially abandoned and what will come after for the Jumbo Valley.
Despite their last-ditch concrete pouring efforts, Glacier Resorts’ environmental certificate expired in 2015, a huge triumph for locals after 25 years of protest. But the company is still pursuing development options. This spring, when the snow melts off the concrete slabs in the Jumbo Valley, we’ll deliver our petition to Premier Christy Clark calling for permanent protection. With an election looming in May, our voices must be heard. Please join us by signing the petition and sharing it with your friends and families to help to protect this wild place for all time.