Contentious Jumbo Valley to become Indigenous protected area with $21M fund

A First Nation has been given over $21 million to create an Indigenous protected area in one of the most contentious valleys in British Columbia.

The Ktunaxa Nation in the East Kootenay will create a conservation zone in the towering mountains and glaciers around the Jumbo Valley, which has been in the eye of developers for three decades.

"I believe this is a positive outcome to what was an extremely challenging situation," said Kathryn Teneese, Ktunaxa Nation council chair.

The Ktunaxa calls Jumbo Qat'muk and say it's home to the grizzly bear spirit and therefore sacred. 

But for almost 30 years, the Jumbo Glacier Resort project team led by Vancouver architect Oberto Oberti has been trying to build a billion-dollar year-round ski resort there. 

The Canadian Press

In 2012, plans for a 6,300-bed resort village with more than 20 ski lifts were given the green light by then-premier Christy Clark's Liberal government. 

The same year the government also controversially amended the Local Government Act to allow Jumbo Glacier Mountain Resort to become a municipality, even though it has no residents.

The move ensured developers would receive an annual provincial grant of $260,000 and $50,000 in federal gas tax money.

But in 2015, the same government cancelled the resort's environmental certificate after finding hardly any work had been done and the project "had not been substantially started."  

Last year, the B.C. Court of Appeal upheld that decision.

Federal Environment Minister Johnathan Wilkinson says turning the site into a protected area is part of a broader reconciliation agenda the Liberal government has with Indigenous people.

Chantelle Bellrichard

"This has been the subject of lots of controversy, including many court cases for many, many years. This is something that assures we are protecting an important local ecosystem," he said.

Teneese says the boundaries of the protected area haven't been finalized, but it's expected to be half the size of Yoho National Park to the north.

"We don't know what it is going to look like. A big part of the initial work is going to be conversations with people who are going to be impacted by this," she said.

The federal government will provide $16.1 million and $5 million will come from private foundations.

Some of the money going to the Ktunaxa is expected to be used to pay off Jumbo Glacier Resort.