May 2021 – Tsawout Big House

A significant learning result arising from the relationship building and understanding between the Lower Vancouver Island First Nations communities and Industry Sector representatives has been the recognition and appreciation specific to cultural awareness when managing employment related candidates. Cultural awareness and understanding is a key process that helps contribute to successful Labour Market relations.

To better understand the significance of the Big House in First Nations culture, the April 21st First Nations & Industry HR meeting was hosted by Tsawout elder and educator Mavis Underwood, a Councillor on the Tsawout Band’s Leadership Council. After a devastating fire in 2009 that destroyed the cultural and spiritual home of the Tsawout community, construction is currently underway to rebuild this important cultural component of the Coast Salish peoples.

Benefiting children, youth and elders alike, the Big House provides a place for community to gather and practise cultural traditions. The traditional name for the Big House in the SENĆOŦEN language is SMIȽE,ÁUTW̱ (smeetȽtha ay outoh). It is the place where the people go to dance; where the people go to sing; where the people go to gather; and where the people go to heal themselves – relieve themselves of things that may be troubling them. A major focus of the project is maximizing the potential of the building for the community holistically. The “building of the building” engages local community members in training and employment opportunities. Capacity building results in long term benefits in embedding construction project knowledge within the community. The Tsawout Big House will enable the Nation to celebrate and strengthen their culture.

First Nations employment recruitment has been very successful at the Tsawout Big House construction site. Conversations with several project leaders ( identified numerous characteristics leading towards this positive employment outcome.

  • First Nations mentorship and leadership has been essential. “Seeing a First Nations’ face to deal with day-to-day who is the same age (as the employees) has been very helpful in the hiring and retention process”.
  • Conducting meetings and discussions directly at the Nation Office (pre-COVID)
  • Implementing a story telling type interview as opposed to a question/answer format. Informal discussions and chats about life based stories and experiences draw out skill-set strengths and specifics.
  • Implementing a clear communication protocal from the beginning of the employment experience, e.g. text and/or phone calling if you cannot make your job commitment for the day.

More background information specific to the Tsawout Big House can be found at