Last weekend we spent a few days in Bamfield. The family weekend on the west coast was a gift from my mom and Tex.
It was nice to see my kids, niece and nephews away from their screens and on the dock fishing for piling perch and rock crab. The devices have a way of devouring us these days much the same way as the docks at the Brentwood Inn or Gilbert’s Marina consumed the days of my childhood.
It jumped off the rack!
We stopped in at Bamfield’s market on our way through to the Kingfisher Lodge. I also noticed Briony Penn’s book “Stories from the Magic Canoe of Wa’xaid.” So I bought it as well. It’s a quick read and the timing is apropos to my most recent work in the legislature around old-growth protection and industrial logging.
The stories come from Xenakaisla elder Cecil Paul Sr. (Wa’xaid). They are a range of anecdotes and memories that Penn arranges in a beautiful illustration of the 20th century indigenous experience from the Northwest coast of British Columbia.
Wa’xaid grapples with his time at residential school. He faced life in the gutter of near-drowning drunkenness. He talks about the birth of his hatred for the “white man” and also how that hatred died. Weaving throughout the narrative is the constant struggle with industrialization. The central thread throughout the book is his effort to protect his birthplace, the Kitlope Valley, from logging.
Through the 1980’s and early 1990’s there was a multi-front battle in British Columbia to protect areas like the Stein Valley, Clayoquot Sound and Lyell Island. The Kitlope is lesser known in this lore. Nevertheless, in 1994 the British Columbia government protected 400,000 hectares, the “largest intact coastal temperate rainforest on the earth.” It was not an act of environmental generosity. It was earned.
We face many of the same challenges today. Wa’xaid gives us a beautiful gift, a Magic Canoe. There is nothing exclusive about this canoe. Indeed, all are welcome to come aboard the canoe as long as you are paddling for the Kitlope.
Wa’xaid, walked with an open mind, and as he went he collected anybody and everybody willing to add their voice to the ever-growing chorus singing and paddling for the Kitlope. He did not even ignore the loggers. He knew them to be avid fly-fishers, so he brought them to the Steelhead spawning grounds flagged for destruction by the logging.
We can learn from Wa’xaid. It’s a lesson for the work we have ahead. We can ill-afford exclusivity. Everyone who is willing to paddle must be welcome aboard the Magic Canoe. In Wa’xiad’s own words,
“I went up on the riverbank by the tree of my little granny. I hear my granny’s spirit: Masi sax qasüüs What are you here for?”
I tell her, “Because they are going to destroy, they are going to kill the Kitlope, our valley.”
“In my dream, there will be a lot of people coming to help,” she says. “You launch a supernatural canoe and no matter who comes aboard to help us save the Kitlope, gän’im llaka’tlee – there will be lots of paddlers – that canoe will never be filled. Take a person that will guide you through uncharted waters to save the Kitlope.”