The federal government will contribute $16 million over four years to the Ktunaxa Nation to create an Indigenous protected and conserved area in the Qat’muk area, which includes the Jumbo Valley, in the Purcell Mountains.
“We were just advised of this, and of course we are excited about it,” said Kathryn Teneese, chair of the Ktunaxa Nation Council, “but we have had no opportunity to finalize the details and our council has not had a chance to discuss this.”
She said she will be able to provide more information toward the middle of September.
An Aug. 26 letter from Catherine McKenna, Minister of Environment and Climate Change, to Kootenay-Columbia MP Wayne Stetski, states that the project will include mapping, assessment of cultural and biodiversity values, negotiations to buy out conflicting land tenures, and a stewardship plan.
The letter states that the offer of funding is conditional on the successful negotiation of the project details and the signature of a contribution agreement.
“The project contains high elevation ecosystems that support headwaters of ecologically-important watersheds that regulate water flow and provide habitat for close to 300 at risk species, as well as old growth ecosystems,” McKenna wrote.
“It will conserve and protect habitat for wildlife, including five species at risk such as whitebark pine (endangered) and grizzly bear (western population) (special concern). This project will also conserve and protect draft critical habitat for one priority species, the Southern Mountain caribou (threatened).”
“This has been a long time coming,” Stetski said. “I appreciate the years of hard work by the Ktunaxa Nation and many of my constituents to ensure Qat’muk is protected for future generations.”
Shelly Boyd, speaking for the Sinixt Nation at the Colville Confederated Tribes in Washington State, said she welcomes the decision.
“We are so pleased with this decision,” she said in an email. “Our peoples’ traditional village at Trout Lake sits in the shadow of this vast wilderness, and our ancestors are buried there. We wholeheartedly support the efforts of the Ktunaxa in the protection of their territory.
“We thank our neighbours from the east for their ongoing work in the preservation of these high lands, and the protection of kiʔláw̓naʔ (grizzly bear). It is essential that in these times of climate change and ecological challenges that we all work together to protect the timxʷ (all things wild and of spirit).”
The Sinixt Nation’s traditional territory extends into a large part of southeastern BC but is unrecognized by the federal government, which declared the group extinct in Canada in the 1950s.
A proposal for a year-round ski resort in the Jumbo Valley has been in various stages of development, court challenges, and controversy for three decades.
In 2015, former provincial environment minister Mary Polak found that the developer, Glacier Resorts Ltd., had not completed enough construction work proceed with the project.
Her decision meant the expiration of an environmental assessment certificate, which the proponent needed to continue developing the resort.
The company took this to court, and last month the B.C. Court of Appeal upheld Polak’s decision that effectively cancelled the resort project.