Four cedar trusses are raised onto the Tsawout First Nation’s new bighouse in the first week of August. A 2009 fire destroyed the former cultural space. (Courtesy of Dave Watson/Tsawout First Nation)

‘Like we can breathe again’: Tsawout bighouse takes shape 12 years after fire

Raising of the cultural building’s roof trusses brings positive impact

After the Tsawout First Nation lost its bighouse to fire in 2009, community members are finding relief as they watch the cultural building start to take shape in Greater Victoria.

After construction was delayed due to a wait for logs, four cedar trusses were raised onto the structure last week – clearing the way for construction of the community’s “heartbeat” to pick up.

“The building is now shaped and it’s becoming a reality that it’s actually here,” said Becky Wilson, an executive assistant with Tsawout First Nation. “It’s created a positive, happy impact on the community.”

With the arrival of the cedar logs, donated by the Namgis First Nation, work can continue with the roof, framing and siding soon to go up. The project is expected to be completed by the end of the year.

READ MORE: Tsawout First Nation revives community, culture through reconstruction of Big House

Community members who have worked tirelessly on the project were on site to watch the trusses go up, Wilson said.

“There was just so much pride and happiness that was going on that day. … It was just like we can breathe again,” she said.

The bighouse is a place where the Nation can gather for a number of cultural practises. Wilson said when an individual or family is facing obstacles, the entire community goes to support and rally behind them at the bighouse.

“It’s one place where everyone is safe to go, there’s no turning anyone away,” she said.

“It’s the heartbeat of our community so there’s an unspoken respect, for anyone who goes in there, that they’re doing some sort of cultural work.”

Tsawout members are using other bighouses, such as Tseycum’s and Tsartlip’s, but the absence of their own meant there was nowhere to pass along teachings and protocols to youth – creating a gap in the community. The new bighouse will bring that life back, Wilson said, and give elders more of a voice again.

“It really reminds us of who we are and where we come from,” she said.

The First Nation is still looking to fundraising a little over $1 million for the remaining work. They have a GoFundMe, a golf tournament next month and they’re accepting donations at the band office.

READ: Central Saanich market offers shopping, snacking in the wood

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