Struggling Nisga’a claims devastation after builder bailed on tourist centre

The Nisga’a village of Gitwinksihlkw is suing modular-building producer Westcoast Outbuildings Inc. CEO Geoff Baker and CFO Laura-Lee Normandeau, claiming the community was “devastated” after allegedly being strung along for months about a planned tourist centre that the company failed to produce.

The village, 100 kilometres northwest of Terrace, filed a notice of civil claim in B.C. Supreme Court on Aug. 6. According to the claim, the village’s name means “place of lizards” and comes from the “Nisga’a oral tradition which states that large lizards lived in the village up until the last volcanic eruption occurred in Nisga’a territory, about 250 years ago.”

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“The eruption is said to have left vast lava beds throughout the Gitwinksihlkw and led to the creation of Nisga’a Memorial Lava Bed Park, a popular destination and tourist attraction with 16-site campground and visitor centre displaying Nisga’a artifacts,” the claim states. “In recent years, NVG has been taking steps to develop and invest in the hospitality industry in Gitwinksihlkw. Developing these industries is particularly important to [us] as the community struggles with a number of economic and social issues, including significant overcrowding in village members’ homes.”

As part of the village’s official community plan, the Nisga’a envisioned a tourist centre called “The Welcome House,” which was to include a 20-seat café and a gift shop to “serve as the hub for residents, travellers and visitors to the Nass Valley.” The Welcome House was to be the Nass Valley’s only Indigenous-owned-and-operated restaurant business and a local had already signed on to operate it, the lawsuit says. The village also received more than $500,000 in grants to fund construction.

When the village inked design and production agreements with Westcoast Outbuildings for the modular structure, the company allegedly represented it was able to complete the project in time for National Indigenous Peoples Day on June 21.

But in February, the company allegedly changed its tune and claimed the project needed “significant changes” when Baker discovered design defects after the original project manager left the company. Months later, the company told the Nisga’a that costs for The Welcome House had ballooned despite a fixed-fee contract for production of the building. On July 16, Baker allegedly admitted the business was failing and its workforce was gone, and that the Nisga’a production payments and deposit had been used to fund the company’s expenses and unrelated projects.

Gitwinksihlkw seeks damages for fraudulent misrepresentation and breach of contract.

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