Gwa’sala-‘Nakwaxda’xw Nation photo Ernie Henderson speaks at the blessing ceremony at the nation’s carving shed.

Vancouver Island First Nation poised to re-establish Big House

Gwa’sala-‘Nakwaxda’xw ready to start building after relocation pulled them last Big House 60 years ago

A Vancouver Island Indigenous community is a step closer to reviving a missing pillar of their heritage.

The Port Hardy-area Gwa’sala-‘Nakwaxda’xw Nation is poised to build its first Big House since a forced relocation more than two generations ago.

Gwa’sala-‘Nakwaxda’xw blessed a carving shed on Dec. 6, where the traditional totem poles and beams for their Big House will be carved. Nearly six decades ago, the two nations were relocated and subsequently amalgamated under one name, but were left without access to their own Big House.

Now, after holding a blessing ceremony over the carving shed, the community can move forward with the Big House project. Community members with ties to both Gwa’sala and ‘Nakwaxda’xw were at the shed around 1:30 p.m that day. Many members were dressed in regalia while others brought their drums for singing.

Two carvers, Bill and Junior Henderson were selected to replicate two of the nation’s totem poles. The newly carved totem poles will then be placed within the finished Big House.

During the meeting discussions, many members expressed that the location may be more suitable on-reserve, instead of across the community’s bridge. Big House Chairperson Colleen Hemphill stated that “a lot of community members have expressed their concern about the location and everything is changeable. We could have it at the other place … up at the end of the field at the school (Gwa’sala-‘Nakwaxda’xw Elementary School).”

The chairperson also said that the purpose of the community meeting was to consider “what’s the pros and what’s the cons with going with the one down here across the bridge or the one up there (at the field).”

Considerations were also made about Port Hardy’s noise bylaws when cultural ceremonies are to take place within the Big House. On-reserve, however, the nation may not need to worry too much about the town’s bylaws, since they have their own bylaws in place.

As for what happens now, GNN will wait on a decision to be made on location and architecture of the Big House. “We are hoping to make those final decisions to move forward with the building of the Big House,” said the nation in an online post. The two carvers are expected to start carving the totem poles sometime in the new year. The project is estimated to cost around $6.4 million.


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