Profile on T’sawout nation (featuring councillor Mavis Underwood)

T’Sawout Nation is one of the South Island Prosperity Project’s 29 members. They are the second local First Nation (out of 10) to join the project. We sat down with elected Band Councillor Mavis Underwood to talk about T’Sawout Nation, their hopes for economic development, and what they see as the possibilities around a collaborative approach to economic development and its potential to help make brighter futures for young people.

South Island Prosperity Project: Tell our readers a bit about T’Sawout Nation and the Coast Salish Territory in which we sit.

Councillor Mavis Underwood: T’Sawout First Nation is located on the east side of the Saanich Peninsula. There is a population of approximately 900 members, as well as 900 settlers that reside in the mobile home parks, manufactured home subdivisions, and the fifth-wheel temporary homesites on the reserve. T’Sawout is very distinct in their defense of marine territory and the way of life that resulted in the Saanichton May Marina Case of 1988 being decided in favour of T’Sawout. Additionally, defenses of the Douglas Treaty have served to educate the settlement population about the saltwater way of life that distinguishes the people, throughout the Gulf Islands, and in the Cordova Bay-Gordon Head area.

SIPP: Tell us a bit about your childhood growing up in the area. What led you to become interested and involved in the political side of community leadership?

M: I was born in 1953. This was a time of progressive change for the First nations as legislation was introduced in 1951 that accommodated the public school of First Nations learners. Previously to this legislation it was mandatory for First Nations to attend Indian Residential Schools or Indian Day Schools. The Federal Government introduced law and penalties for parents/grandparents who sheltered their children from attending residential schools, with penalties including jail sentences and daily fines. My interests have also been in searching for way to build opportunities within the grasp of every family. I wanted to be part of people finding strong educations that would prepare them for employment that would contribute to an improved way of life. A lot of my work has been in community and family development through work in education, social work, child welfare, and in volunteering as a mentor/counsellor. As an elected Councillor I try to remain committed to working hard to improve housing, health, and economic development opportunities to promote a positive future for generations of young people.

SIPP: Tell us about some of the values of the Nation. What do you wish more people knew about these values and where they came from?

M: Behind the administrative policies, we would like people to know that values have their foundations in strong and healthy family traditions. The family traditions have been supported and strengthened by generations of customary teaching and traditions that help bind families and communities together. We have been told many times by elders that we must be prepared for our people, we need to show caring and sharing in what we do and how we act, and we must work hard each and every day. As leadership we are to treat every person the same and understand that they want to be recognized and heard. We must listen more than talk in some cases and understand that the gift of time may be all that someone wants. The most important teachings come down in the times of great sorrow. It is in these times that we see people put aside past grievances to come together to help families move through tragedy and loss in their families. We witness the patience of people gathering support to help families and witness the tender care that is often provided to those in mourning. These important teachings are the foundation of a way of life that relies heavily on the abundance of food supplied in the saltwater environment.

SIPP: As a Councillor on T’Sawout Council, from your perspective what are the priorities that the Nation has for economic development? What’s the opportunity (or opportunities) you are most excited about for the future?

M: For economic development we would like to improve the revenue stream for the nation so that there are contingency funds established for emergency projects (rebuilding homes in disaster, improving sewer, energy conservation). We would also like to increase local opportunities to contribute to the local community needs for services and jobs so that families are not travelling great distances for employment. We are looking forward to completing the commercial grade access to launch the Jesken Development which will provide commercial and residential development of the Jesken site.

SIPP: T’Sawout Nation is a member of the South Island Prosperity Project, the region’s first ever truly regional economic development effort. Why were you interested in joining? What do you hope comes out of this collaborative approach to economic development?

M: T’Sawout was interested in joining the South Island Prosperity Project in seeking to link with potential partners, and to find mentors to assist with developing economic development capacity. We would hope that by striking strategic relationships we will increase the opportunity for community members, particularly youth to look ahead to ponder what the world holds for them and how they can best prepare themselves to move ahead.

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