Following the Good River
Photo: Greg Shea
A book by Wa’xaid (Cecil Paul) with Briony Penn
Who better to tell the narrative of our times about the restoration of land and culture than Wa’xaid, (the good river) or Cecil Paul, an Xenaksiala elder, who pursued both in his ancestral home, the Kitlope — now the largest protected unlogged temperate 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 and theft of cultural property put a human face to the survivors of genocide.
The beauty of paradox and forgiveness is Wa’xaid’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.
My name is Wa’xaid, given to me by my people. ‘Wa’ is ‘the river’, ‘Xaid’ is ‘good’ – good river. Sometimes the river is not good. I am a Xenaksiala, I am from the Killer Whale Clan. I would like to walk with you in Xenaksiala lands. Where I will take you is the place of my birth. They call it the Kitlope. It is called Xesdu’wäxw (Huschduwaschdu) for ‘blue, milky, glacial water’. Our destination is what I would like to talk about, and a boat—I call it my magic canoe. It is a magical canoe because there is room for everyone who wants to come into it to paddle together. The currents against it are very strong but I believe we can reach that destination and this is the reason for our survival.
Photo: Callum Gunn
Briony PennBriony 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.
Photo: Billie Woods