Originally posted on February 7, 2017
by Tammy Cloutier
Editor, Whole Terrain
Jagged snow-capped peaks erupt from a sea of clouds as a lone man in black appears in the opening scene of Jumbo Wild, his back to the camera. (See trailer below.) He is dwarfed by the sheer size of the rugged backdrop of the British Columbia wilderness. If those who are looking to profit from developing this iconic scene are successful, this view and Jumbo Valley will be forever altered. The Jumbo Glacier Resort controversy, which has stretched on for about 24 years, is representative of what is happening to the last of our wilderness areas worldwide. As filmmaker Nick Waggoner states in this short documentary by Sweetgrass Films, although this is an issue that may seem black and white, the multitude of voices involved demonstrate that this lengthy battle and learning process is not that simple.
The purpose of Jumbo Glacier Resort, considered both a dream and nightmare, is to create the ultimate mountain resort where people can experience a place incomparable to anywhere else in the world. Nineteen ski resorts already exist within a five-hour drive of this location, but politicians, investors, and others are touting Jumbo Glacier Resort as an important economic opportunity. Author Hal Clifford states that the skiing itself is not the point of this resort. The alleged reason for developing it is that a “real estate driven business” is where the money is. The public is told about economic benefits, but it is the investors who are set to make the most money despite the reported 800 jobs that may be brought to the communities.
Interview clips in Jumbo Wild include the architect who proposed the idea of the Jumbo Glacier Resort, the resort’s vice president, an anthropologist, a journalist, and others. Throughout the narration of the story, viewers are treated to beautiful scenic images that both make one understand why some want to make this a destination while others implore the audience to leave it as is for current and future generations. Scenes such as softly falling snow, skiers swooshing down steep slopes spraying powder, sunlight filtering through evergreens, and people snowshoeing with the backdrop of a vast mountain range make it easy to appreciate the beauty and demand protection of the area, but protection from what and whom?
The film touches on the issue of public land and who has a right to do what with it. Ninety-four percent of the Canadian province of British Columbia is public land. This means anyone can lease it to make money (timber, for example) despite the public also having the right to enjoy it. At what point does one group have the right to impose their interest over others? To paraphrase a favorite quote from the documentary, humans project their beliefs, values, and thoughts onto a mountain, so how do we know what to do when we all look at the same mountain, but don’t actually see the same mountain? Resort development would also disrupt an important core grizzly bear population. Grizzly bears are sensitive to human presence and activities and are one of the first species to go because of it.
The Jumbo Glacier Resort development was approved after about a decade. Opposed by many, locals were never given a chance to vote on it. People marched in protest. Feeling as though they were not being heard, their resistance became more dramatic (such as blockading a road to the development area). In what seems like an extreme view of the situation, the resort’s vice president stated that local environmentalists are part of a larger movement that is “anti-human.” First Nations also became involved in an-all-too-familiar battle of homeland being taken from Indigenous groups. Ktunaxa citizen, Joe Pierre, stated that we “should be able to say no and our no be heard.” Ktunaxa members have lived in this area for about 9000 years—about 400 generations—but have left only a light footprint. However, in the span of about seven generations, a new and much more impactful footprint has been created by developers and others. Although the Jumbo Glacier is considered sacred land to First Nations people, as one person commented in the film, sacred space is not just a First Nation idea; it is a human idea.
Many argue that humans have in some way touched the entire Earth. Strategies for protecting “wilderness,” or what is perceived as wilderness, continue as we struggle to hold onto the places and sense of connection we have lost. Jumbo Wild asks, what is the definition of “wild”? Interviewees suggest it can be a treehouse in a backyard, a park outside of town, or “a landscape with no roads, raptors instead of planes, and trails made by wildlife.” However, if we continue down our current path, what type of wild will be left?
While both sides of the issue are represented in Jumbo Wild, it leaned more in the direction of favoring those who oppose the development. Viewers are left with difficult questions of not only what will or should happen to Jumbo, but also the impression that Jumbo is emblematic of larger problems and questions in today’s society. These questions are emphasized as the architect walks into a beautiful cathedral and states how he sees similar strength and beauty between the mountain and the church’s structure, while a local hunter/trapper explains that Jumbo is his church. As of 2014, the resort’s environmental certificate was revoked, but the project’s developers are still trying to move forward. If loopholes are exploited and development continues, what will be the cost to local communities, the environment, and wildlife—and is it worth it?