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Feature - War and peace in the mountains

Battle zones, recreational playgrounds or sacred spaces?


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Banff is the face of mountain culture in Canada. When overseas visitors think about Canadian mountains, pictures of the Rockies automatically enter their heads.

Banff, Jasper, Kootenay and Yoho national parks, together with Hamber, Mount Robson and Mount Assiniboine provincial parks, form the UNESCO Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks World Heritage Site, one of the largest protected areas in the world.

But while tourism now forms the backbone of many regional economies through out western North America, it does not come without a price.

"Mountain regions are being destroyed by war, but they can also be destroyed by development and over-use," argues Hamilton.

There are more than 33,000 designated protected areas in the world, says Hamilton, but they only cover nine per cent of the Earth’s surface. The United Nations has a goal of protecting 12 per cent.

But with mountains being turned into war zones and recreational playgrounds at an increasingly faster rate, will we ever have a chance?

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The big winner at this year’s Banff Mountain Film Festival was a movie that explores the value of wilderness in the modern world.

Yellowstone — America’s Sacred Wilderness took the festival jury’s grand prize with a beautifully shot film that examines the beautiful, and sometimes brutal, natural ecology of Wyoming’s Yellowstone National Park, where grizzly bears kill deer fawns to feed their cubs.

Another film that captures the metaphyiscal value of mountains is In the Light of Reverence , which documents the impacts of recreational and industrial development on the sacred sites of First Nation peoples.

The movie makes the point that mountains, and nature, can take care of the heart, soul and mind.

There are interesting parallels between this film and the current situations at Sun Peaks Resort near Kamloops and the proposed Cayoosh ski resort between Pemberton and Lillooet, where, in both cases, natives are protesting development.

The two films also offer a sharp contrast to the usual dude-mentries about BASE jumping, unicycling down Mexican volcanoes, sailing in the Antarctic and skiing down Alaskan peaks.

Banff itself, as Banff Centre president and CEO Mary Hofstetter noted in her opening night speech, is also recognized as a sacred site.

Back before the CPR, tourists and mountain festivals, the Stoney Cree travelled from their homes on the flat Canadian prairie, up the Bow River Valley through the foothills, towards a sacred spot surrounded by the high mountain peaks of Rundle, Cascade, Sulphur and Norquay and located at the convergence of three valleys.