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Ktunaxa will await legal advice on how to proceed after case dismissed

CAROLYN GRANT

The Ktunaxa Nation has lost its legal challenge to the Jumbo Glacier Resort in B.C.'s Supreme Court.

The First Nation took action after Glacier Resorts was given a green light from the Ministry of Forests and Lands in March 2012 for construction in Upper Jumbo Valley, 55 kilometres west of Invermere.

Arguing the proposed resort violated its charter rights to religious freedom, the Ktunaxa asked the court to rule the project would desecrate sacred land and practices.

Ktunaxa Leader Kathryn Teneese says the First Nation is "obviously disappointed" in the ruling and has not yet made a decision on how to proceed.

"We felt we invested a lot of time, energy and resources in trying to bring the best case forward," she said Friday.

Teneese says that the Ktunaxa knew it would be difficult to have the court understand just exactly what was being brought forward.

"I think that the idea of the development interfering with our spiritual and religious beliefs has not been dealt with before. It is outside of the box. The court is being asked to understand the connection of First Nations, all First Nations across Canada, to the land.

"Essentially, the court is saying we recognize the impact on your spiritual beliefs but don't know how to deal with it."

"If the Grizzly Bear Spirit leaves Qat'muk, the Ktunaxa say they will no longer be able to receive physical or spiritual assistance and guidance from that spirit," the judge said in his 124-page ruling. "Their rituals and songs about the Grizzly Bear Spirit will lose all meaning and efficacy.''

But Justice John Savage ruled the ministry did its duty to consider the First Nation and did not infringe on constitutional rights.

"The process of consultation and the accommodation offered in my opinion passes the reasonableness standard,'' he said.

The provincial government's approval also includes various conditions that fairly balance the group's religious rights, he added.

Teneese says the Ktunaxa will now wait for advise from their legal adviser on how to proceed.

"You can appeal," she said. "The next step is the BC Court of Appeal and then the Supreme Court of Canada."

The Ktunaxa Nation has to bear all the costs of the law suit.

"When we made the decision we agreed it was important for us to go down this road," Teneese said. "We knew it would cost money. We didn't make the decision lightly. It was difficult given the challenges we face in our communities. It was a difficult decision but we felt it was important. It's a very difficult place we find ourselves in. Any further action means more costs. We want to lay everything out and make a careful decision before the next step."

Glacier Resorts set out to build the year-round ski resort on Crown land in 1991, but it was challenged repeatedly in court.

The company says that over 20 years it went to "extraordinary lengths'' to satisfy government, First Nations and environmental concerns, including modifying its plans.

The government's green light gave Glacier Resorts the final approval that was needed to begin the three-phase development.

With files from Canadian Press.

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