Following the Good River 

     by Briony Penn

Who better to tell the narrative of our times about the restoration of land and culture than Waxaid, “the good river” or Cecil Paul, an Henaksiala elder, who pursued both in his ancestral home, the Kitlope — now the largest intact, protected river system and rainforest left on the planet. Paul’s cultural teachings are more relevant today than ever in the face of environmental threats, climate change and social unrest while his personal stories of loss from residential schools, industrialization, theft of cultural property and the 1960s “scoop” of children puts a human face to the survivors.

The beauty of paradox is Paul’s traditional offering to the world: the church that removed him from his family, rescued him from the streets; the industry that threatened the Kitlope, fed his family and gave up their logging rights; the man that raised his stolen child, helped save his valley; the nation that took his pole, brought it back.

It was a magical canoe because there was room for everyone who wanted to come into it to paddle together. The current against it were very strong but I believed we could reach that destination and this was the reason for our survival.

Cecil Paul

The last Henaksiala male speaker

Briony Penn is a naturalist, writer, educator, and broadcaster known for her devotion to protecting endangered species and sensitive ecosystems in her native British Columbia. In addition to hundreds of articles in newspapers and magazines, she has written three books for adults and one for children on nature-related themes. Her most recent book is The Real Thing: The Natural History of Ian McTaggart Cowan, published by Rocky Mountain Books and shortlisted for both the Roderick Haig-Brown Regional Prize and the Hubert Evans Non-Fiction Prize. She is a founding member of The Land Conservancy of B.C.