The new Qat’muk Indigenous Protected and Conserved Area (IPCA) in the Purcell Mountains promises protection for the Jumbo Valley.
After decades spent fighting to protect its sweeping mountain views, resident grizzlies, and spiritual importance, the Jumbo Valley and surrounding mountains are safe, thanks to an agreement to create a new Indigenous Protected and Conserved Area (IPCA) in the area.
Located on the traditional territory of the Ktunaxa Nation, the Qat’muk Indigenous Protected and Conserved Area will cover the Jumbo Valley and 700 square kilometres’ worth of the surrounding area. Qat’muk is the Ktunaxa name for the area that includes Jumbo Valley.
The IPCA agreement closes the door on a controversial proposal to build a ski resort in area — a project Ecojustice lawyers played a key role in shutting down — and officially puts the Ktunaxa in charge of stewarding and managing the vast conservation area.
The new Qat’muk IPCA agreement also represents a shift in how we think about protecting environmentally, culturally, and spiritually significant spaces.
As we celebrate the news that the Jumbo Valley is safe for generations to come, here’s a closer look at how IPCAs could represent the future of conservation in Canada:
In order to understand why IPCAs are important, we need to acknowledge an uncomfortable truth: Throughout Canadian history, efforts to create parks and protected areas have been rooted in colonialism.
Throughout the course of Canadian history, governments created many of the country’s parks and protected areas without Indigenous Peoples’ consent, sometimes forcibly displacing people from their territories.
“In these early days of parks creation in Canada, Indigenous Peoples were understood as obstacles to the enjoyment of nature,” Eli Enns and Danika LIttlechild, co-chairs of the Indigenous Circle of Experts, wrote in a 2018 report on IPCAs.
“The history of protected areas in Canada, while somewhat improved in recent times, has been fraught with rights violations, forcible displacement, loss of access to traditional territories and resources, and other substantial inter-generational cultural, social, economic and spiritual impacts.”
By fracturing Indigenous Peoples’ relationships with their land and waters — and their unique ability to protect them — these destructive and racist policies have had lasting impacts on both Indigenous Peoples and on the environment.
In contrast to this problematic history, IPCAs offer a new framework for conservation and reconciliation.
The Indigenous Circle of Experts, a group of Indigenous and non-Indigenous Peoples committed to helping Canada conserve 17 per cent of the its land and freshwater by the end of 2020, defines IPCAs in three ways:
1. IPCAs are Indigenous-led
2. IPCAs represent a long-term commitment to conservation
3. IPCAs elevate Indigenous rights and responsibilities
In the case of the Qat’muk Indigenous Protected and Conserved area, this means the Ktunaxa will govern the area and lead decision-making for it. It means the Ktunaxa are committed to protecting the environment and wildlife that call Qat’muk home. And it means they maintain their rights to use and honour the land in traditional ways.
“Qat’muk is the spiritual home of the grizzly bear and of profound importance to our Nation,” Kathryn Teneese, chairperson of the Ktunaxa Nation Council, said in a statement. “[Funding to create the IPCA] enables us to close off a sad chapter and make a new, Indigenous-led beginning for Qat’muk.”
Since the 1990s, Ecojustice and our clients have worked in parallel with the Ktunaxa in their fight to protect Qat’muk.
In 2016, Ecojustice lawyers went to the Supreme Court of Canada to intervene in support of the Ktunaxa’s challenge of a proposed ski resort in the area.
Ecojustice also represented Jumbo Creek Conservation Society and Wildsight in a separate set of proceedings. Our legal victory in that case knocked out a key permit for the project, established an important environmental law precedent, and kept the door open long enough for Ktunaxa, the province, and the federal government to agree to create an IPCA.
After nearly two decades working towards a shared goal, I was honoured when the Ktunaxa invited me to be there in person as they announced the agreement to create the Qat’muk IPCA.
As I stood alongside Ecojustice’s clients and allies and celebrated this historic agreement, I had the opportunity to reflect on how we must advance conservation going forward.
Canada’s history of displacing Indigenous Peoples and creating parks without their consent is shameful. If the country wants to break with that past, we can’t ignore Indigenous Peoples’ history, knowledge, and spiritual beliefs when we talk about protecting the environment.
At Ecojustice, this means we need to continue to support First Nations like the Ktunaxa by intervening in key legal cases. We must also work with local clients that have strong relationships with local Indigenous Peoples, such as Wildsight and the Jumbo Creek Conservation Society. And we must acknowledge, encourage, and celebrate victories such as the creation of the new Qat’muk Indigenous Protected and Conserved Area in the Purcell Mountains.
In the face of a biodiversity crisis, a climate emergency, and Canada’s history of violent colonization, the only way forward is to chart a new course that respects traditional ecological knowledge and Indigenous Peoples’ rights to self-determination and self-governance.