Gwa’sala-’Nakwaxda’xw Nations

Journey Of Building A Gukwdzi (Big House)

In Chief Paddy’s words, the “Gukwdzi is our parliament building.”

It is there that the Gwa’sala and ‘Nakwaxda’xw Nations conducted our governance and community business.

In 1964 when we were forcefully relocated out of our territories, the federal government promised a new Gukwdzi here in Tsulquate ….57 years later, we still do not have one. Building a Gukwdzi has started to take shape and become a reality at long last.
Here you can learn the initial steps of the Bighouse project, how it has evolved, and our hopes for the future.


Over the years there have been many discussions about building a Gukwdzi informally and in planning sessions. In the last decade, Nation rebuilding and strengthening of governance has been given prominence at the Treaty table and through Treaty Related Measures. Whatever happens with Treaty, GNN needs to be prepared to meet the challenges of governance within the current political and socio-economic environment in which we live and operate. Therefore, steps have been taken to focus on the foundation of governance, including the building of our Gukwdzi. What follows is a short chronology of the work undertaken by the Treaty Team and Treaty Office in the journey of building GNN’s Gukwdzi.


BIGhouse Timeline

Exploring Foundations of Governance

As part of the Winalagalis Treaty group, the Treaty Office supported research on how traditional governance informs or shapes modern governance. The role of the pesa or potlatch within the Gukwdzi was a key piece of the research report.

2010 & 2015
Planning Process
Comprehensive Community Plans
Aliter homines, aliter philosophos loqui putas oportere? Sin aliud quid voles, postea. Mihi enim satis est, ipsis non satis. Negat enim summo bono afferre incrementum diem. Quod ea non occurrentia fingunt, vincunt Aristonem.
Building a Process

The GNN Treaty Office spearheaded work to incorporate a GNN Bighouse Society

  • The Bighouse Society embraces and promotes:The Gwa’sala-’Nakwaxda’xw Nations traditional, socialand spiritual values.
  • The Gwa’sala-’Nakwaxda’xw Nations traditional sacred practices in artistic works, dancing, ceremonies and other such activities.
  • Artifacts of spiritual value to the Gwa’sala-’Nakwaxda’xw Nations.
  • Information and records relating to the Gwa’sala-’Nakwaxda’xw Nations traditions available, including expression in the Gwa’sala-’Nakwaxda’xw Nations language and in various cultural activities.

Bighouse Society Board of Directors:

  • Hereditary Chief Thomas Henderson
  • Hereditary Chief Willie Walkus
  • Mary Johnson
  • Colleen Hemphill
  • Joye Walkus
Getting Construction Material

Working with the Lands and Resources Office (LRO), the Band Manager and the k’awat’si Economic Development Corporation (KEDC), the Treaty Office negotiated with the BC Government to use timber from the Homelands for the Gukwdzi.

Putting it all together

Getting Financial Support
The GNN Treaty Office convinced the federal government to provide funds to build a carving shed where Master Carvers will create the posts, beams, and other parts of the Gukwdzi.

Guiding the Work
With support from the Treaty Office, the Bighouse Society created subcommittees to engage with families on the carving of the Crossbeams and posts.

Building on Governance
GNN Treaty Office applied to the New Relationships Trust to engage with the community in revisiting the initial draft Constitution. This evolved into meetings with Chief, Council, Hereditary Chiefs and Matriarchs, and focused on teachings of the Bighouse.

Starting the Carving Work

Four Master Carvers were contracted to complete the Crossbeams and posts for the Gukwdzi and, in the process, mentor four GNN members as apprentices in carving.

Gukwdzi-Bighouse Project Coordinator – Joye Walkus

GNN Treaty Office, along with directors of the Bighouse Society, hired a researcher to prepare a job description for the position and facilitated the hiring of a Project Coordinator.

Gukwdzi Goals

Management Team
Terry Dunn, Capital Project Specialist for GNN, assisted the Gukwdzi Project Coordinator in the initial planning process of Gukwdzi construction. This includes continued work on funding proposal applications to Indigenous Services Canada and related service bodies. Other consultants are called in from time to time for assistance with applications (Tony Wong, Quintry Management Consulting, and Sharlene Frank, Policy).

Today, Terry Dunn is working with a KEDC Project Manager on further proposals for funding required to complete the engineering, architecture and construction of the Gukwdzi.

Hereditary Chiefs Guide Protocols
From the start, the Directors of the Bighouse Society recognized the need for the involvement of family, Hereditary Chiefs, and community. The “Parliament Building” must reflect the Gwa’sala – ‘Nakwaxda’xw people properly and traditionally.

Meetings were held, for example, with Hereditary Chiefs to discuss carvings of house posts and Crossbeams, the ground-breaking ceremonies for the Ga’a’las (Carving Shed), and the location of the Bighouse.


As the construction is getting underway, it is important to implement the Executive Committee of the Bighouse Society and appoint six Hereditary Chiefs to act as advisors to the Bighouse Society Board as they carry out their role.
Continued communication with community members, Council and administration, is also key to a successful project. Proposed next steps in this area are to add a Bighouse tab onto the newly revised website and to provide more frequent updates on social media.