VANCOUVER - A First Nations' claim that the sacred Grizzly Bear Spirit lies within a swath of British Columbia wilderness will not block development of a giant ski resort more than two decades in the making.
A B.C. Supreme Court judge dismissed on Thursday a legal challenge by the Ktunaxa Nation to the massive project being built by Glacier Resorts in southeastern B.C.'s Purcell Mountains.
The First Nation took action after the company 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 group asked the court to rule the project would desecrate sacred land and practices.
Ultimately, the First Nation wanted the court to overturn the government's approval.
The Ktunaxa Nation called the resort's potential location, which falls within its claimed traditional territory, Qat'muk. Its people believe the project will be built at the heart of an area they consider to have paramount spiritual importance.
They fear that "permanent overnight human accommodation" will push the Grizzly Bear Spirit out.
"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 says 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.
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.