The Supreme Court of Canada heard a legal challenge from the Ktunaxa Nation on Thursday in an effort to reaffirm their Charter right of religious freedom over disputed land that carries significant spiritual importance.
A long-running dispute between the Ktunaxa and the provincial government has gone to the highest court in the land, as the First Nations group takes issue with government approval of a ski resort in Jumbo Valley. The area includes Toby-Jumbo Watershed, the South Fork Glacier Creek, Horsethief Creek and Farnham Creeks.
The Ktunaxa argue that the approval of the resort, on land that known as Qat’muk and is the home to the Grizzly Bear spirit, infringes on their right to freedom of religion.
Both the B.C. Supreme Court and the Court of Appeal sided with the provincial government in previous rulings.
“Qat’muk has existed long before any ski resort proposal and long before Canada was a country,” said Kathryn Teneese, Ktunaxa Nation Council Chair. “As a Nation, we have spent too much money fighting in the court system to prove what we have always known. Qat’muk is vital to Ktunaxa as well as local wildlife populations and biodiversity and must be protected.”
For Ktunaxa, the Grizzly Bear Spirit is a unique and indispensable source of collective as well as individual guidance, strength, and protection, and a necessary part of many Ktunaxa spiritual practices and beliefs. Qat’muk’s spiritual importance is deeply connected to its biological significance for living grizzly bears now and in the future.
“We believe that both the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Constitution Act provide us with the right to freely practice our traditions,” said Teneese. “It is unfortunate that the Supreme Court of British Columbia and the British Columbia Court of Appeal failed to recognize this, but we are confident the Supreme Court of
Canada will uphold the rights of all Canadians to practice their religions and traditions free from interference and the threat of destruction of sacred places.”
Robyn Duncan, executive director of Wildsight, called Thursday’s hearing a significant day for the Ktunaxa Nation and Kootenay residents who oppose the proposed ski resort.
“Wildsight celebrates the rich history of the Ktunaxa Nation and their 10,000 years of stewardship on Ktunaxa ʔamakʔis. We have been honoured to stand in solidarity with the Ktunaxa Nation in their fight to protect Qat’muk…” says Duncan.