01/06/2014 05:27 EST | Updated 03/08/2014 05:59 EST

Jumbo Glacier Resort faces First Nations court challenge

A challenge to the controversial Jumbo Glacier Resort heads to B.C. Supreme Court on Monday, with a local First Nation arguing that it hasn’t been properly consulted on a project that will profoundly transform their traditional territory.

The B.C. government approved development of Jumbo, the country's first year-round glacier-based ski resort, in May of 2012. The $1-billion development 57 kilometres west of Invermere, B.C., was first proposed — and cautiously endorsed by NDP Premier Mike Harcourt — in the early 1990s. It took another 20 years of review for the Liberal government of the day to finally sign off on Glacier Resort's master development agreement.  

Jumbo is slated to be built in the heart of what the Ktunaxa First Nation call Qat'muk, home of the Grizzly Bear Spirit. But Kathryn Teneese, chair of the Ktunaxa Nation, says the province should never have approved the development plan to build the resort.

“This is an important place to us,” says Teneese. “This is something that has great meaning to the Ktunaxa people.”

Once complete, the Jumbo resort will feature up to 23 lifts, a 3,000-metre-high gondola and a ski village with more than 6,000 units. The resort will be comparable in size to Silver Star in Vernon, B.C. — or about 1/10th the size of Whistler Blackcomb.

Peter Grant, the lawyer representing the Ktunaxa in the case, will argue the construction of the Jumbo Glacier Resort is a violation of the Ktunaxa peoples' right to freedom of religion, under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. They feel Qat’muk would be threatened by a development of such magnitude.

The case is challenging, and instrumental in determining the direction Canada is going in its relationships with Aboriginal peoples.

Jumbo spokesperson Grant Costello argues that their master development agreement is similar to deals on Crown land across B.C. and that if it's struck down, it would set a terrible precedent.

“At the end of the day, if the master development agreement has failed, what does that mean for the rest of the industry?” asks Costello.

Ten days have been set aside by the court to hear the Ktunaxa challenge. Costello says in the meantime, the resort is pressing ahead with lift and accommodation construction, as well as engineering for the road into Jumbo.