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Tierra Madani, HR Manager of Vancouver Island Brewing, Finds Aloha on Vancouver Island

Tierra Madani, HR Manager of Vancouver Island Brewing, Finds Aloha on Vancouver Island

She talks growing up in Hawaii, POG beer and hula.


Tierra is everything you’d imagine an HR manager to be: she’s bubbly, warm, friendly, open, and has an infectious energy that, from what I gather, permeates all aspects of her life. It hasn’t gone unnoticed either. In 2018, Tierra won the HR Rising Star award for Chartered Professionals in HR for BC and the Yukon, which helped put Vancouver Island Brewing on the (HR) map as a company that’s building a strong shared culture. We sat down over breakfast on a sunny day to talk about her upbringing on Molokai, making the move to Vancouver Island, and what these two islands share in common.

You grew up in Hawaii. What was that like?

I was born in Montreal, but we moved to Hawaii when I was three years old. It was a pretty cool upbringing. My dad was a chef and my mom was a restauranteur. Hawaii is kinda like Vancouver Island in that tourism really drives its success. So if you want to make money, make a decent living, you go into hospitality. 

We moved to Maui first, then later Molokai. About 5,000 people live there and about 70 per cent of the population is indigenous. So it was a really special, sacred place to grow up. But, like many teenagers, the entire time I was in school, I was like okay, let’s get out of this bubble one day, right? 

What drew you to Vancouver Island?

I got into university in Vancouver. That was my first stop in B.C. The city was super exciting for someone from a tiny island, let alone a small town, so it was just the best university experience. But after about six years [in Vancouver], it became really busy for me. I craved the island culture again. Hawaii’s a great place to grow up and grow old, but in between, you have to get out. I heard great things about [Vancouver] Island—I had only ever been to Victoria before, maybe twice. But I knew it had this awesome, small town feel to it. 

That must have been a big adjustment. Were there any similarities between Molokai and Vancouver Island that made the transition easier?

Culture, for sure. I love any place that really values the expression of the indigenous culture of that area. And I felt like Vancouver Island did a really good job of that. Of course, we have a long way to go.

Loving the environment, too. Everyone here [in Victoria] is so sustainably conscious. You know, you could be walking down the street, this clean, beautiful street, and see a piece of garbage and it’s not yours and you’re still going to pick it up. There’s this sense of environmental stewardship when you live on the Island.

And that sense of environmental stewardship is strong in Hawaii as well? 

No. Well, yes and no. The Hawaiian people are like that. 

Can you tell me more about the concept of Aloha? 

Aloha means so many different things in the Hawaiian language, it means love, it means appreciation, it means goodbye, it means everything. Being neighbourly is Aloha. 

And when anyone from Hawaii leaves, whether it’s temporary or permanent, you’re always bringing that sense of Aloha with you. 

You practice hula in Victoria. What’s the importance of hula in Hawaiian culture? 

Molokai is the birthplace of hula. So that island in particular really resonates with hula. When we dance or teach hula, it’s a way to accentuate [Hawaiian] culture. For indigenous Hawaiians, hula is very sacred. It’s an intense practice. And it can be a way to welcome people. There’s a deep spiritual meaning behind it. And that’s throughout all of Polynesia—but for Hawaiians, hula is distinct. 

Tierra pictured here with her HR Rising Star award.

Tell me about a few of the dances you’re practicing right now. 

We’ve got two back-to-back hula dances that we’re doing [Editor’s note: Tierra performs with the Pearls of the South Pacific dance group]. One is a warrior chant, it’s a Hawiian chant, and it’s very strict. We’re not smiling at all. We’re stern and solid in our movements. Every single movement has to be in sync with everyone else.Then we have a more fluid, graceful hula. We’re smiling and it’s beautiful and welcoming.

What do you feel when you practice hula?

I feel like I’m home. And I feel like I’m united. 

To…?

To Hawaii, to the people that are dancing with me, to the audience. It’s a beautiful way to feel that you’re in the moment. With hula, you’re trying to channel mana—that’s “power” in Hawaiian—and we’re trying to give that sense of power to the people watching. 

Did you learn to hula on Molokai? Or is hula something that you connected after you moved away? 

Both. I didn’t do it religiously when I was back home, but it’s a part of all our celebrations. School celebrations, senior luau, homecoming… I don’t think I really understood the full meaning of it until I left Molokai. I don’t have native Hawaiian blood—my stepfather does, and he’s taught me the most about the culture since I was 14 years old—but there’s this beautiful community of people back home who’ve accepted me and make me feel a part of it. When you grow up on Hawaii, you have this intense spiritual connection to the islands. Hula is a part of that. 

When I first moved out here [to B.C.] and people heard that I was from Hawaii, they were like, “Why would you move out here?” The weather is different, the culture is different but when you’re young, you want to explore different places. Hawaii will always be home, but it’s only recently that I found this community [through hula] that I realized how many Polynesians live on [Vancouver Island] and call it home.

I remember walking into the first practice and it was immediately big hugs, everyone’s welcome, “Aloha.” I remember thinking okay, I’m home and this is going to be my connection. 

You recently co-brewed POG-flavoured beer with with Danny [Seeton, Production Manager for Vancouver Island Brewing]. That must have been fun. 

It was a lot of fun. POG is short for passionfruit, orange, guava. Back home, it comes in a massive jug with this funny little character on it. As a kid growing up in Hawaii, you drink it as juice. When you’re older, you mix it with rum or vodka and then it’s good to go. [Laughs.] 

The first taste of POG beer.

POG beer wasn’t released to the masses, so instead, what Vancouver Island Brewing beer is your favourite?

I love our sours. Right now, I’m enjoying Rainshadow from our Pod Pack collaboration

What other Hawaiian foods or dishes do you crave?

Whenever we have a potluck at the brewery, I always make spam. [Laughs.] I usually make spam-fried noodles. And it’s funny because everyone’s like, “Spam’s so gross,” and I’m like, well, just try it. When you have it in Canada, it’s different, but at home we fry it with soy sauce, brown sugar and ginger and it becomes this nice medley. If I’m being honest, about 80 per cent of people who try it like it and about twenty per cent are like, “Meh, not for me.” 

Tierra’s latest spam haul.

How did you end up working (and introducing spam to your colleagues) at Vancouver Island Brewing? 

I did a commerce degree at the University of British Columbia. After your second year, you need to choose a specialty. I was leaning between marketing or HR, and not being able to do both, I chose HR with a minor in psychology. I really love people and understanding people. After I graduated, a lot of my classmates were going to places like Coca-Cola and KPMG, all these big businesses, and it didn’t feel like those kinds of places aligned with my values. You tend to get lost in the mix. How can you really make an impact when you’re at this massive company? And not to say that you don’t but…

You’re a bit more disconnected.

Yeah. And it didn’t really fit my set of values. So I decided to go back to school and do a tourism management diploma, which included a co-op at Tourism Vancouver. Then when I moved to Victoria, I worked at Tourism Victoria, which set me on my career path here. I saw the job opening [for Vancouver Island Brewing] about two and a half years ago and went for it. It was a really good leap of faith. 

How else has living on the Island influenced you?  

Victoria is a great place to call home. Being here for the last six years, I’ve realized how much of a [Vancouver] Islander I really am. I feel like being on the Island allows me to be my most goofy, fun, authentic self. There’s this sense of community wherever you go on the Island. Whether that’s up island, or to Tofino or Ucluelet, it’s all Aloha. 

Learn more about Vancouver Island Brewing.

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