An excavator was being used on an empty piece of land on the Tsawout First Nation near Central Saanich on a rainy Tuesday morning.
“I’m just ecstatic and elated that we’re finally past the starting line here,” said Tsawout First Nation Councillor John Etzel, whose traditional name is YEXPILEM.
That’s because Etzel and others have been pushing to have a longhouse rebuilt here since the last one burned down 11 years ago.
“Our longhouse is basically the heartbeat of our community, it’s where we gather,” he said.
Flames destroyed the previous one in July 2009. A cause was never determined but there had been squatters discovered living there not long before. But even while the rubble was still smoking the community was vowing it wouldn’t be the end.
That promise looked like it would be fulfilled in 2017 when an official groundbreaking was held on the site. But officials say those plans were derailed due to politics and funding.
Etzel says the absence of a longhouse, a place to practice culture and language, means a loss of connection with the young, and that has had a tragic impact.
“We’ve lost some of them at a young age because they had nowhere to turn, they went off in a bad direction, we’ve endured a lot of drug abuse and alcoholism because we have, we have nowhere to practice our culture,” he said.
But now the $1.7 million project is, finally, becoming a reality.
“This is something that is part of our community and our Nation and it’s a part of who we are, and it’s part of rebuilding and strengthening our community and we’re very happy about it,” said Tsawout Chief Nick Claxton.
The hope is to have it ready by next summer and there is a plan to hire security to watch the building when it’s not in use.