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GNN Big House project moves forward as public hearings come to a close

Port Hardy council will now have to vote on second and third reading of the bylaw.
TYSON WHITNEY PHOTO A model of the Big House that is currently located at the GNN Band Office.

Gwa’sala-’Nakwaxda’xw First Nation (GNN) is yet another step closer to making its heritage and cultural dream a reality.

The District of Port Hardy recently held two public hearings on Sept. 5 to gauge public reaction to GNN’s proposed Big House project. Port Hardy council and district staff were at hand, prepared to field questions from local residents.

The first meeting started at 1:00 p.m., which was advertised on the district’s website. Two residents showed for the first meeting, with no questions being asked during the time allotted for public comments. The second meeting followed at 6:00 p.m. and there were three residents who showed up with public comments and questions.

Director of Corporate Services, Heather Nelson-Smith, explained in a presentation during the public hearings that the property needed to be rezoned from a R-2 duplex residential, located within a comprehensive development zone (CD-1), to a P-2 Institutional.

One Port Hardy resident voiced concerns over nearby wildlife. She stated that any developments occurring in the area should respect the preserved eagle’s nests and habitat.

In a follow-up interview with The Gazette, the nation’s Big House Chairperson responded to the concerns of possibly disturbing wildlife. “Our utmost concern is our environment and the land,” said Colleen Hemphill, “In no way would we want to destroy any habitat. We will also do our utmost to prevent any damage, removal or destruction.”

Hemphill is responsible for organizing arrangements, setting up meetings, finding possible funding for the project, and also chairing meetings.

Another Port Hardy resident raised a question at the hearing about why the location was proposed to be built across from Tsulquate reserve.

Hemphill told The Gazette that the nation originally had a “vision of having it across from the Gwa’sala-’Nakwaxda’xw Elementary School, but the money required to do it there and the way the ground is — the area is basically a marsh — it would be at least twice as much to prepare the lot, a minimum of three million dollars. The land is already prepared where it is proposed with the necessary infrastructure. It would be much less costly to move forward with the construction. We feel like this would be a location that would benefit our community and the community as a whole.”

Roger Nopper, Band Manager for GNN, and Hemphill emphasized in an interview that each step of the project is directed by the community, its leaders, and its Elders. He also stated that they are going to do everything they can to include involvement from all the families, clans, and the two nations.

Four committees were formed to handle project details, for example, fundraising and conducting ceremonies, and they will be comprised of community members.

One other local who showed up at the 6:00 p.m., Don Kattler, expressed a warm congratulations to the nation for moving forward with the project.

Following the public hearing, Port Hardy council will now have to vote on the bylaws.

The nation is holding a planning meeting next week.

If any residents have any questions or concerns about the Big House project, please feel free to contact the GNN Band Office at 250-949-8343.