The Corporation versus Nature, First Nation, and Local People

Saying No to Corporations

We should be able to say ‘no.’ And our ‘no’ should be heard.

— Joe Pierre of the Ktunaxa Nation speaking regarding any development in Qat’muk, Ktunaxa territory

Bullfrog Films has just released Jumbo Wild: “a gripping, hour-long documentary that tells the true story of the decades-long battle” over Qat’muk (as it is called by the Ktunaxa people), aka Jumbo Valley. Qat’muk lies in a rugged wilderness valley among the Purcell Mountains near the headwaters of the N’ch-iwana (Columbia River) and is the home of the Grizzly Bear Spirit. It is located in a province colonially designated “British Columbia”; the nearest town is Invermere, about 55 km (34 mi) west of Qat’muk.

Proposed site of Jumbo ski resort in Qat’muk

Proposed site of Jumbo ski resort in Qat’muk

The film features montages of thick flakes of snow adding to the already thick snow base and further to the drooping conifer branches, archival footage, pristine skiing, panoramas of the breathtaking wilderness vistas, and grizzly bears — all visually appealing. However, the documentary did not grip me right off the bat. In fact, it felt soooo slow. But it became apparent that the glacial pace of Jumbo Wild is an intentional device used by director Nick Waggoner. And gradually this viewer eased into the rhythm of the film and could deeply appreciate the ingenious purposefulness of the pace.

Nature represents a timeless oasis of tranquility interposed between the rat race of modern human society. I live in a mega-city filled with the stridency of thick traffic and round-the-clock construction, and I have always felt an immense relief to my psyche whenever I return to the bountiful nature of BC.

It is eminently understandable why wilderness is a magnet for many people, and most people are aware on some level of the value of wilderness as wilderness. Conversely, since wilderness is land, and since land often has an attached pecuniary value, wilderness represents an opportunity for profit-oriented individuals to try and commodify land.

The Italian-born, Vancouver-based architect and co-owner of Jumbo Glacier Resort, Oberto Oberti, says he seeks the opportunity “to find a better world where it is possible to contribute, to create a perfect world that we all love to see.”

Wilderness or ski resort? -- jumboglacierresort.com

Wilderness or ski resort? — jumboglacierresort.com

However, Oberti’s vision of a perfect world is obviously not shared by all. There is major opposition to Oberti’s dream of a major ski mecca outside of Invermere. Oberti further contradicts his dream project when he defines wilderness in the film as the “dream of untouched and untouchable.”

Jumbo Wild highlights the friction between people dedicated to the preservation of sacred wilderness and corporate development that seeks to privatize wilderness.

But how is it that wilderness can be privatized by the provincial government for “developers” when the provincial government has never received deed to the land? The Ktunaxa people are adamantly opposed, and the Ktunaxa Nation have asserted their sovereignty in the territory they have lived since time immemorial.

The opposition to the ski resort is multifarious and includes local politicians and citizens, environmentalists, back-country skiers, and scientists.

As Joe Pierre of the Ktunaxa Nation says in the film, the Ktunaxa culture doesn’t believe in ownership of the land and they feel a compulsion to share the territory they consider sacred.

Pierre relates that they have inhabited Qat’muk 9000 years, yet: “We’re the ones who have to prove our rights to the land. It’s ridiculous.”

Pierre compares the stewardship of 400 generations of Ktunaxa who left nary a footprint to the destructive ecological footprint left by seven generations of settlers.

Settlers eradicating bears was a part of that footprint. As biologist Michael Proctor explains, “It was their [the settlers’] culture.” Proctor notes, however, that since the 1970s a shift in environmental consciousness has happened. The sentiment is that “development” of wilderness must be limited and must not be overly destructive of the ecosystem. For this writer, who is an avid skier, conscience demands that any “development” on a First Nation’s territory must only proceed with the explicit approval of First Nation.

Nolan Rad, an 81-year-old hunter-trapper, also criticized the resort developers: “All they want is money. It’s all dollars. They couldn’t care less about the bears, the moose, the elk.”

In a striking on-camera visual from Jumbo Wild, Rad confronted Oberti, but Oberti sulkingly walked away.

Rad, echoing Indigenous culture, maintains that future generations have a right to experience a pristine Qat’muk.

Grant Costello, Jumbo Resort’s VP is of a different mind. Costello calls environmentalists “anti-human.”

Costello reveals his motivation: “The [environmental] opposition kind of inspired me to not lose at any cost because I don’t want to lose to these people is what it comes down to.”

Pierre accuses Oberti of vainglory, that Oberti’s ski resort is meant to be a personal monument. Such a monument could come at great ecological cost. Opponents of the ski resort claim the ski resort would fragment grizzly territory. This is of particular concern to the Ktunaxa people because they regard Qat’muk as a sacred home of the grizzly bear.

And it is not as if there are no places to ski in the region, as the Panorama Mountain Village and Fairmount Hotsprings have ski facilities near Ivermere.

A Small Victory for Qat’muk

Near the conclusion of the film, viewers learn that the BC government has revoked the environmental certificate of Jumbo Glacier Resort, meaning Oberti and his colleagues will have to begin the process all over again from scratch. However, corporate schemes do not just roll over and die easily in BC as the Petronas LNG terminal project in the Ts’msyen territory of Lax U’u’la (Lelu Island) steadfastly persists despite First Nation opposition. Heartening, however, for First Nations and environmentalists was the Tsilhqot’in victory to protect Teztan Biny (Fish Lake) from becoming a tailing pond.

Saying No

The struggle of the Ktunaxa people brings to mind the similar struggle of their neighbors to the north, the Secwepemc people, who unsuccessfully opposed the construction of the Sun Peaks golf and ski resort in Skwelkwek’welt (Secwepemc territory).

Secwepemc elder Irene Billy spoke forcefully then: “When we said no expansion, no development. I take this as genocide… I don’t accept any more genocide.”

Kim Petersen is a former co-editor of the Dissident Voice newsletter. He can be reached at: kimohp@gmail.com. Twitter: @kimpetersen. Read other articles by Kim.