Bearing Witness

By Robyn Duncan

On December 1, I travelled to Ottawa in solidarity with the Ktunaxa Nation to hear their case in the Supreme Court of Canada. I felt it was important to be there to show my solidarity with the Ktunaxa, but also to bear witness to the beginning of a dialogue in Canada that is long overdue, that of indigenous rights and sacred spaces.

Troy Sebastian and Chad Luke (Ktunaxa Nation Delegates), Alison Huyett (Patagonia), Robyn Duncan (Wildsight) at the solidarity dinner hosted by Amnesty International.

The Ktunaxa’s case is the first of its kind in Canada, and seeks to test the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and how it applies to the protection of indigenous spiritual beliefs. At the heart of it: Qat’muk. We know from the Ktunaxa that Qat’muk is the home of Grizzly Bear Spirit and of significant importance to the spiritual and cultural beliefs of the Ktunaxa—it’s also the location of the proposed Jumbo Glacier Resort.

As I stood outside the doors of the Supreme Court, waiting with the Ktunaxa delegation, I felt the formality, weight and history of the institution. Lawyers dressed in robes moved quickly throughout, security guards and police kept a watchful eye and footsteps echoed on the tile floors. The proceedings themselves were intense. The presentations by the Ktunaxa and the respondents – the BC Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations and Glacier Resorts Ltd. – were longer than the five minutes allotted tp the intervenors, but still felt rushed in terms of the scope of the issue being considered. Questions came like rapid fire from the justices and I was mesmerized and fully engaged in the weighty discussions taking place. I confess I hadn’t previously spent much time considering the Charter of Rights and Freedoms afforded to all Canadians, but that day, the scale and scope of the Constitution loomed large.

Canada will celebrate 150 years next year. On the heels of the Truth and Reconciliation Report and the precedents set by the Delgamuukw, Haida, Tshilquo’tin and Taku River Tlingit decisions, the question of how the Canadian legal system recognizes indigenous rights, aboriginal laws and cultural beliefs is poignant and profound. With a 150 year history of forced relocations, residential schools, overt racism and the systematic targeting of aboriginal cultures, we cannot get this wrong. We have an opportunity to begin a new chapter and the Ktunaxa’s case in the Supreme Court last week is one chance to do just that.

Jumbo Wild Supporter at the Supreme Court with a framed “Keep It Local” poster from the 2009 campaign to keep the decision local at the Regional District of the East Kootenay.

Some argue the Jumbo Wild campaign has been divisive, splitting apart our communities over its 25 years. I’ve always argued that it has been the opposite — Jumbo has brought our communities together in new ways, building new bridges within and across our communities, and fostering deep relationships with the Ktunaxa Nation, unified in opposition to the Jumbo Glacier Resort. My trip to Ottawa reaffirmed this for me.

Today, I give thanks for the community building that this campaign has achieved, the beginning of a real dialogue about sacred lands in our country, and for how it has allowed me to develop deep relationships with some Ktunaxa and put real meaning to truth and reconciliation for me as an individual and for Wildsight as an organization.