First Nations protest lingers against proposed Melvin Creek ski resort

Lil’wat man who is camping out in the Cayoosh mountain range says he’s protecting the traditional land of the St’át’imc people
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Hubert Jim has occupied an unusual home for the last decade. Originally a resident of the Lil’wat First Nation community of Mount Currie, Jim used to work as a cook in restaurant kitchens in the Whistler area. Over 12 years ago, community opposition to a proposed ski resort prompted him to set up camp at Melvin Creek, or what is referred to by the St’át’imc people as Sutikalh.

What he initially expected to be a stay of a few days has turned into a much more permanent residence at the tranquil site in the Cayoosh mountain range, just off Highway 99 between Pemberton and Lillooet. While he was at one point accompanied by many other protesters, the man known as Hubie now spends most of his time at the Sutikalh camp with one friend and fellow protester and a couple of dogs.

Above Jim’s camp flutters a red Mohawk warrior flag, and his dark green jacket sports sewn-on badges from indigenous groups based in locations as far away as Quebec and Argentina that have visited the site over the years.

Jim says that, when he initially set up camp in May 2000, it was at the request of “the grandmothers”, older women known as the teachers in the Lil’wat community. He sees his purpose as protecting the natural habitat.

“You can go in the bush and still find 25 types of edible berries,” Jim told the Georgia Straight on a recent Saturday afternoon at the site. “All the medicines you need are still here.”

The camp is a lingering sign of protest from the St’át’imc against the major ski resort envisioned by proponents Al Raine and Nancy Greene Raine—now the mayor of the Sun Peaks Mountain Resort Municipality and a Conservative senator, respectively.

As proposed, the four-season Cayoosh resort would have 14 ski lifts and a capacity to host over 14,000 people a day in the Melvin Creek Valley.

While the environmental-assessment certificate issued for the project in 2000 is still valid, no construction work on the site has been permitted since the expiry of the certificate was suspended. Issued through an order in council in 2005, the suspension was made to allow time for the Crown to conduct additional consultations with First Nations.

Information provided by the B.C. Environmental Assessment Office indicates that consultations are on hold and no timeline has been set for launching consultations on the proponents’ request for an extension of the certificate.

“The province has said to me, ‘You know, we’re working on it,’ and I have not heard very much since,” Al Raine told the Straight by phone. “I’m not sure exactly where it goes,” he added. “If First Nations are interested, I’m happy to say, ‘Hey, here’s where I think the opportunities are.’ ”

But Garry John, elected chief of the Seton Lake Indian Band and chair of the St’át’imc Chiefs Council, said the 11 St’át’imc communities in the region, including Mount Currie and Lillooet, made it clear when the proposal came forward that they were opposed to the project.

“We view Melvin Creek as an area holding far too much heritage and resource value in the sense of historical value, cultural value, spiritual value for our people,” he said in a phone interview.

“There’s all kinds of indicator species up there, the main one being the grizzly bear, and mountain goat, that need that habitat in its present form in order to survive.”

Raine said he met with the St’át’imc chiefs and made it “absolutely clear to them all” that without their support, the proponents wouldn’t be proceeding with the project.

“Twenty-five years ago, I was keenly interested,” he explained. “I still think it represents probably from a climate point of view—you know, for weather, snow quality, terrain potential—probably the best opportunity in the province. Obviously I wouldn’t have spent money if I didn’t think that. And that’s probably still true today, but, you know, do I want to beat my head against the wall, do I want to fight the First Nations? Absolutely not.”

In the meantime, Jim plans to stay on at the camp. The former Mount Currie resident hasn’t been dissuaded by some of the challenges, including winter isolation and some recent incidents in which he says he was assaulted by people entering the camp.

“The guys that want the ski resort come in here when they’re all drunk and start fights,” Jim claimed. “I’m still fighting a lot."

Raine believes the long-term existence of the camp is due to issues beyond the project itself.

“I think the protest has little to do with the project and more to do with the whole politics and the issues around land claims and rights,” Raine argued.

Jim does indicate that he sees his presence at Sutikalh, which translates roughly as “home of the winter spirit”, as part of efforts to protect the traditional land of the St’át’imc people.

“Without our territory and our…St’át’imc language, without that, we’re nothing,” Jim said.

Chief John predicted that Jim will stay at the camp “until he takes his last breath”.

“Or he’s going to have to know beyond a shadow of a doubt that he doesn’t have to worry about the place anymore,” John said.

Comments (7) Add New Comment
Zotique Gauthier
You believe this guy?

Twenty-five different kinds of berries? I call bullshit.
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Look what I found
I know hey, Zotique Gauthier? I mean, my basic google search only found 31 different edible berries in the Pacific Northwest, along with a few dozen sub-varieties. Clearly if he’s only able to find 25 of them by living within a particular environment, then he must be missing some valuable knowledge about the mountain that an wise urbanite such as yourself could teach him, right?
1. bearberry: Common bearberry (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi) and Alpine bearberry(Arctostaphylos alpina)
2. blackberry: Himalayan blackberry (Rubus armeniacus), Trailing blackberry (Rubus ursinus), and Highbush blackberry (Rubus allegheniensis)
3. black currant: Northern black currant (Ribes hudsonianum), Stink currant (Ribes bracteosum), and Prickly currant (Ribes lacustre)
4. black huckleberry: Thinleaf huckleberry (Vaccinium membranaceum) and Evergreen huckleberry (Vaccinium ovatum)
5. blueberry: Velvetleaf blueberry (Vaccinium myrtilloides), Dwarf blueberry (Vaccinium caespitosum), Bog blueberry (Vaccinium uliginosum), Oval-leaf blueberry (Vaccinium ovalifolium) and Alaska blueberry (Vaccinium alaskaense)
6. bunchberry (Cornus canadensis) 
7. chokecherry (Prunus virginiana
8. Pin cherry (Prunus pensylvanica)  
9. Bitter cherry (Prunus emarginata).
10. cloudberry (Rubus chamaemorus)
11. cranberry:  Bog cranberry (Vaccinium oxycoccus), Lingonberry (Vaccinium vitis-idaea), and Grouse whortleberry (Vaccinium scoparium) 
12. crowberry Empetrum nigrum
13. elderberry (Sambucus caerulea)
14. fairy bell: Hooker's fairy bell (Prosartes hookeri), and Rough-fruited fairy bell (Prosartes trachycarpa)
15. golden currant (Ribes aureum)
16. gooseberry: Coastal black gooseberry (Ribes divaricatum), Sticky gooseberry (Ribes lobbii), White-stemmed gooseberry (Ribes inerme) and Northern gooseberry (Ribes oxyacanthoides)
17. hairy manzanita (Arctostaphylos columbiana)
18. hawthorn (Crataegus douglasii).
19. mulberry (Morus alba)
20. oregon grape: Tall oregon grape (Mahonia aquifolium), Creeping oregon-grape (Mahonia repens), and Dwarf oregon-grape (Mahonia nervosa)
21. pacific crabapple (Malus fusca)
22. raspberry: Blackcap (Rubus leucodermis), Red raspberry (Rubus idaeus), Arctic raspberry (Rubus arcticus), Trailing raspberry (Rubus pubescens), and Creeping raspberry (Rubus pedatus) 
23. red currant: Northern Red Currant (Ribes triste) and Mountain prickly currant (Ribes montigenum)
24. red huckleberry (Vaccinium parvifolium) 
25. salal (Gaultheria shallon)
26. salmonberry (Rubus spectabilis)
27. saskatoon berry (Amelanchier alnifolia)
28. strawberry: Wild strawberry (Fragaria virginiana), Wood strawberry (Fragaria vesca), and Coastal strawberry (Fragaria chiloensis)
29. sumach (Rhus glabra)
30. thimbleberry (Rubus parviflorus)
31. twisted stalk: Claspleaf twisted-stalk (Streptopus amplexifolius) and Rosy twisted-stalk(Streptopus lanceolatus)
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Martin Dunphy
Look what I found:

You took the words right out of my tapping fingers (if I had the time).
Thank you!
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Zotique Gauthier
I don't know how many hiking trips you Einsteins have been on in those valleys, but you'd starve to death trying to find enough berries to put on your granola in the morning.

If he's "living off the land" he must have found some miraculous way of growing flour and coffee in a place that's snowbound over half the year too.
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Martin Dunphy
Zot Gaut:

People have been living off the land for thousands of years without flour and coffee.
And even with snow on the ground.
Back to your Quakers granola bars.
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Janie Jones
Sorry Martin. It is well known in the towns of Pemberton and Lillooet that Hubie does not "live off the land." Visitors to Sutikahl are encouraged to bring non-perishable food items like dried pasta and beans as donations.

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Martin Dunphy
Janie:

Thanks for the input, but I wasn't speaking literally about any one person. I was speaking about First Nations generally in response to a rather blinkered viewpoint expressed by someone else.
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