n:w explains
December 15, 2021

Indigenous skill building

The province’s construction sector is anticipated to grow significantly in the coming decade, making skills training for young people—the workforce of tomorrow—essential. To meet this need, Indigenous communities throughout B.C. are investing in the next generation to build capacity in both traditional and technological skills. 

Communities from several First Nations gathered for a canoe paddle-making workshop that took place at Thunderbird Hall in Campbell River. | Photo credit: Construction Foundation of BC

Indigenous communities are some of the fastest-growing communities in the province, with an increasing number of youth keen to learn new skills. Not only are these initiatives growing practical know-how for participants, but the investments are also building a sense of pride and connection in Indigenous communities throughout B.C. 


Exploration of Northwest Coast carving traditions

The province’s construction sector is anticipated to grow significantly in the coming decade. To meet this need, the Construction Foundation of BC developed the Indigenous Skills program to grow interest in woodworking among young people. The initiative helps train and support school educators new to woodworking while providing hands-on trades discovery workshops for K through 12 classes. Through a wide range of culturally-rooted woodworking projects, youth learn practical skills relevant to future opportunities in trades.

Bentwood box, an example of a project featured in the Indigenous Skills handbook. | Photo credit: Construction Foundation of BC

Bentwood box
Learning from the experts

Workshops inspire hands-on learning 

Indigenous Skills workshops are produced by First Nations artists from across B.C. and share the traditional skills from Elders and local experts to First Nations youth and their educators. Infused within the process is the crossover relevance to careers in high-demand skilled trades. 

Workshops for youth and teachers are offered online or delivered in person when safe to do so and feature projects that primarily use locally-sourced western red cedar and yellow cedar

Group within the Kamloops area welcomed the Construction Foundation of BC into the community for the Indigenous Skills workshop. | Photo credit: Construction Foundation of BC

Lii Michif Optipemisiwak Workshop 1536x1019 1
Making the connections

Leading Indigenous artists connect with youth 

The initiative connects participants with renowned Indigenous artists through the province. Projects were developed by artists from throughout the province, many of whom are part of delivering workshops based on their projects for First Nations schools.

“The project plans can be used as catalysts to encourage learners to launch an investigation into their own culture—for example, the history behind a project such as the canoe bowl can be used to initiate thought and conversation around how it relates to the community utilizing this resource. Our hope is that these projects will encourage learners to ask critical questions, and foster discussions and thoughts about their own culture, art, and traditions,” says Dean Heron, West Coast artist in the program’s welcome message.

Canoe bowl, an example of a project in the Indigenous Skills handbook. | Photo credit: Construction Foundation of BC

Indigenous skills carving construction foundation canoe bowl
Projects for everyone

Community collaboration

The projects are diverse, spanning paddle carving and a feast tray to a soapberry spoon and canoe bowl, and more. 

“For us, it’s been critical that we build community ownership into everything we do. We aren’t showing up and delivering to communities, we’re doing it with communities. Along with practical skills training, we have local Elders come and share stories. It’s a really good chance to hear the history of carving in the community,” says Jordan Perrault, director of strategic initiatives for the Construction Foundation of BC.

Paddle pendant, an example of a project in the Indigenous Skills handbook. | Photo credit: Construction Foundation of BC

Paddle pendant construction foundation indigenous skills handbook

Building community and connections 

“Most participants were brand new carvers,” said Heron after leading a virtual workshop with the Witset First Nation on how to carve canoe bowls. “A lot of them never had held a carving tool. Getting the opportunity to watch them make everything happen and seeing them complete their projects was pretty awesome. The really great thing that comes out of these workshops is how the students help one another finish things and sort out problems together.” 

The virtual delivery method of the workshop was also a success, with Heron instructing remotely from Vancouver Island, while Witset participants joined online from their community. 

“I recommend the canoe bowls project specifically and working with the Construction Foundation in general to all First Nations and other schools, and hope that we can continue to work with the Construction Foundation again in the future. The students loved this project. The medium and topic made it culturally authentic and relevant, and they were able to connect and enjoy the experience.” 

Hildegarde Scholtz, administrator and instructor at Kyah Wiget Education Society Adult Education Center, located in WiTset


Originally named Kyah Wiget (‘Old Village’), Witset is a Wetʼsuwetʼen village in the heart of northwest British Columbia, located on the side of the Wetzin Kwah (also known as the Bulkley River). The current village was built during the early 1900s but served as the Wetʼsuwetʼen fishing grounds for thousands of years. 


Indigenous Skills handbook

An exploration of west coast carving and tradition

Indigenous skills west coast carving cfbcIndigenous skills: An exploration of northwest coast carving and tradition is intended to be used as a source for educators in Indigenous communities and classrooms to introduce traditional knowledge to their students.

This handbook provides an introduction to a variety of authentic projects that require basic skilled trades training.

Skills training in action

Paddle building at Kikekyelc

The Indigenous Skills program also coordinated a three-week, six-session paddle carving workshop with youth alongside Kikekyelc’s Indigenous Youth Services Life Skills Program, members of the Thompson Rivers University’s (TRU) Trades & Technology department and master carver, Frank Marchand.

Ten youth took part in the paddle building sessions, with some of those youth able to craft not just one, but two paddles. The participants resided at “Kikekyelc: A place of belonging”, a newly constructed multi-unit housing complex for Indigenous youth aged 16 to 27. Participants were introduced to contemporary trade skills and tools, as well as traditional shaping techniques and wood-burning tools to add designs to their paddle.

“There was a level of comfortableness and a sense of safety that was attained over the course of these workshops,” said the Construction of BC Foundation’s director of First Nations initiatives Michelle Canaday. “As a result, youth were able to envision themselves as possible students. They could see themselves being a part of the building that, prior to this workshop was a foreign space to them.”  One of the students involved in the workshops and construction of Kikekyelc expressed an interest in enrolling in the TRU Carpentry Program following the carving workshops.

True partnership with Indigenous communities is a cornerstone to the program’s success, explained Jordan Perrault. 

Paddle project, an example of a project in the Indigenous Skills handbook. | Photo credit: Construction Foundation of BC

Paddle making Construction Foundation of BC
WATCH: Indigenous Skills Video Workshops

A celebration of First Nations art, culture, and skills with Dean Heron

Indigenous Skills is a celebration of First Nations art, culture, and skills. Led by West Coast artist, Dean Heron, the Indigenous Skills workshops connect young people to the traditions and stories of thousands of years of ancestral technologies.


Passive house training for remote northern Indigenous communities

While the Construction Foundation of BC is growing capacity through traditional Indigenous woodworking skills, a partnership between Passive House CanadaBC Housing, and the Witset First Nation is expanding technical skills related to high-performance energy-efficient wood construction. 

Through the initiative, the Witset First Nation received funding for a 26-unit, three-storey energy-efficient apartment project that is being designed to meet Passive House standards. Taking advantage of the thermal benefits of wood, the project acts as a training ground for energy-efficient construction techniques for local Indigenous workers.  

The light-frame wood complex will help the Witset First Nation provide more affordable housing to their community. The initiative not only offers savings but also empowers community members to learn how to construct high-performance, Passive House wood buildings for future projects. 

Above: Renderings of Witset First Nation Passive House Project, a 26-unit, a three-storey energy-efficient apartment complex that acts as a training opportunity for local Indigenous workers. | Renderings courtesy of Witset First Nation and Cornerstone Architecture

The light-frame wood complex will help the Witset First Nation provide more affordable housing to their community and includes 16 studio units, ten two-bedroom units, three accessible suites, communal kitchen and laundry facilities, counselling room, management offices, and outdoor fire pit. Highly efficient and airtight, the nearly all-wood structure will use cellulose wood fibre as a sustainable and effective insulator. Interior design and colour palettes take inspiration from the works of local First Nations artist James Madam from Gitdumden of the Wetʼsuwetʼen Nation. The project plans to incorporate additional art from local craftspersons.  

Community members were able to build on existing experience building with wood. The training included a wood-frame wall mock-up and provided participants with a practical hands-on understanding of how to assemble a Passive House design.

“Wood is a great material for Passive House and many of the participants came with a good knowledge of the basics of light-frame wood construction. Beyond this initiative, the goal was really to leave a positive legacy, empowering participants to not only help construct this project but master the skills needed, and even potentially start their own businesses, in high energy performance and Passive House construction. It was a great way for the participants to take their existing knowledge of wood construction to the next level,” said Luiz Bezerra, Manager of education, training, and development with Passive House Canada.

Building to Passive House standards is well-suited to the climate of the Witset First Nation. Weathering extreme temperatures, energy costs can be a challenge. With Passive House, energy savings for heating can amount to over 75 per cent in comparison to other building types. The initiative not only offers savings but also empowers community members to learn how to construct high-performance, Passive House wood buildings for future projects. 

“We worked through the Kyah Wiget Education Society to receive a training grant to educate local trades in high-efficiency building techniques. The education material and instructors were provided through Passive House Canada with the support of 475 High Performance Building Supplies and Euroline Windows for products,” explained Scott Kennedy, lead on the project for Cornerstone Architecture.

“We are working on another community-based project for the Witset First Nation and are hoping to use tours of the housing project to educate the community, including the greater Smithers area in high-performance building and then apply it to the next smaller project,” added Kennedy.


The training is being conducted through the Kyah Wiget Education Society (KWES), a certified Independent school that incorporates cultural content into academic programming for K through 12 students, as well as within college-level programming in coordination with the Nicola Valley Institute of Technology. 

KWES trained 13 local members of the Witset First Nation, as well as three members of the Heiltsuk First Nation, on low carbon building practices including prefabrication using BC wood products to meet Passive House standards. 

Indigenous skills west coast carving cfbc

Indigenous skills handbook + workshops

Learn More
Close-up of green needles from Western Red Cedar (Thuja plicata), a versatile species of coniferous trees indigenous to British Columbia, and used for a wide variety of exterior and interior building applications.

Western red cedar

Western red cedar is a resilient and versatile species that can be used in a wide variety of exterior and interior building applications.

Learn More