Ktunaxa finds ally in United Church

Church pledges support in fight to save Qat'muk, the site of the future Jumbo Glacier Resort

On November 22, 2012, representatives from the United Church of Canada Kootenay Presbytery met with Ktunaxa Nation elders to reaffirm their apology and throw their support behind the First Nation’s battle to save their sacred land.

The Ktunaxa have been fighting to save the Jumbo Glacier area, which they call Qat’muk, from development. In November, 2012, they launched an application for judicial review of the master development agreement which gave Jumbo Glacier Resorts Ltd. the go ahead to construct a year-round ski resort in March. That agreement between the proponent and the provincial government was signed in March, 2012. On November 20 the area was granted Mountain Resort Municipality status.

In 1986, the United Church offered an apology for the harm done to First Nations children and their families — 22 years before the Canadian federal government offered their own apology for the federally-funded residential school program.

Frank Lewis, minister for Cranbrook’s United Church, attended the November 22 meeting between elders and church reps, and said the apology was the right way to start off the meeting which took place at the St. Eugene Golf Resort and Casino.

While the St. Eugene Mission residential school was run by the Catholic Church, Lewis said the United Church did have involvement in other residential schools in Canada.

“The Christian churches — most denominations — were involved with residential schools, funded by federal government, to assimilate First Nations people into European culture,” Lewis said.

“I believe that the intentions were good – at the time — but since then we have learned of the harm that it caused,” Lewis said.

The November meeting started out with Kootenay Presbytery chair Reverend Keith Simmonds reaffirming the apology and reading out a letter of support to be included in the Ktunaxa’s judicial review application that was submitted on November 30. About 30 people attended the meeting, including Kimberley United Church minister Christine Dudley.

“We thought it was important to clearly lay out the background to our statement of support,” Simmonds said in a release from the Kootenay Presbytery. “Our history includes a disrespect for, and discounting of, First Nations spirituality. We tried to eradicate an approach to the Creator we now recognize as not only valid, but a most helpful addition to our own understanding.”

Lewis said it was important for the church to support the First Nation, because they understand how important spiritual lands can be to a religion.

“The focus is totally on the sacredness of the land,” Lewis, who joined the Cranbrook United Church on July 1, 2012, after moving from Victoria, said. “We as Protestants know of places within places where it’s so sacred that it needs to be held up and protected.”

Lewis cites sacred areas that are the focus of religious pilgrimages such as the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem for those of the Jewish faith.

“That’s our focus — is supporting their tradition, what the Ktunaxa believe is a sacred place for them, and they’re our brothers and sisters,” he said.

Simmonds said now was the right time to go public with the United Church’s letter because of the Idle No More protests happening across Canada.

The United Church’s participation in the judicial review is strictly spiritual, Lewis said. They have no interest in the ongoing political and economic debate surrounding the Jumbo Glacier Mountain Resort Municipality.

The United Church came out in 1986 to apologize to the First Nations involved in residential schools, well before Prime Minister Stephen Harper offered one on behalf of the federal government just four years ago. Lewis said the United Church believes in social justice, based on the teachings of Jesus Christ. It was that belief which lead them to look into the damage done by residential schools.

“It is with that heart that we investigated what happened, and we were wrong,” Lewis said. But the church did something else to rectify the situation — they opened up a victim support fund. “Not only did we use words to apologize, but the United Church set up a fund that was used for healing purposes for the First Nations peoples.”

Lewis said he appreciates being welcomed onto Ktunaxa Lands and said their contribution to the region needs to be celebrated.

Beyond the letter of support, Lewis and recently retired Kimberley United Church minister Barbara Langdon participated in the Qat’muk rally on November 30, just days after the reaffirmed apology and handing over the letter of support. Lewis said it was a wonderful experience.

“We have to celebrate all who were there in support,” he said.

What was even more incredible about the march, according to Lewis, was that Canadians joined together with First Nations for a common cause.

“It was people supporting First Nations,” he said. “It was great, it was bigger than I thought it would be.”

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