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RememberingCecil Paul (Wa’xaid)

Nov. 28, 1931 – Dec. 3, 2020

My name is Wa’xaid, given to me by my people. ‘Wa’ is ‘the river’, ‘Xaid’ is ‘good’ – good river. I am a Xenaksiala. I am from the Killer Whale Clan.

Portrait of an older man wearing glasses, a bucket hat fitted over his beanie, and an orange rain jacket over a knitted sweater

On December 3, 2020, Cecil Paul of the Haisla First Nation walked on at 90 years of age. If you ever talked at length with our founder Spencer Beebe or know our creation story, you know Cecil Paul was the spark that ignited the efforts to protect the 800,000-acre Kitlope from clear-cut logging on the central coast of British Columbia. It was at this first encounter along the banks of the Kitlope River in August 1990 between Spencer and Cecil Paul, Gerald Amos, and Charlie Shaw that Ecotrust was born.

Over the next four years, people from all walks of life, from around the world, came together to join the Haisla’s efforts. Cecil often said they came on the Magic Canoe. In his recent tribute, Ian Gill shared Wa’xaid’s vision: “It was magic because it could make room for everyone who wanted to come on board, to come in and paddle together. The currents against us were very strong. But I believed we could reach our destination. And that we had to  for our survival.”

“Come into this canoe to explore the magic—a supreme, unknown journey that we’re going to take together. And that journey will be beautiful because we will begin to understand one another. So I invite you all to come into this Magic Canoe. Paddle. Change.”—Cecil Paul (Wa’xaid)

The Kitlope Heritage Conservancy is now the largest intact coastal temperate rainforest watershed left in the world. But to Cecil and the Haisla people, those mountains, rivers, valleys, and all living things in that place mean so much more. “You guys call it the Kitlope,” Cecil once said. “But in our language we call it Huchsduwachsdu Nuyem Jees. That means the land of milky blue waters and the sacred stories contained in this place. You think it’s a victory because we saved the land. But what we really saved is our heritage, our stories, which are embedded in this place and which couldn’t survive without it, and which contain all our wisdom for living.”

What power lies behind those words. Spencer has often said some of the best work he’s ever done was with Cecil, Gerald, Charlie, and the Haisla people around the Kitlope. We can understand why. Today, 30 years later, all of us here at Ecotrust are grateful, proud, and continue to be inspired by the seed of generous partnership planted with their efforts.

Rest in peace, Wa’xaid. And thank you.

If you would like to learn more about Cecil’s remarkable life, read Following the Good River: The Life and Times of Wa’xaid (2019) and Stories from the Magic Canoe of Wa’xaid (2019), by Cecil Paul and Briony Penn. If you would like to learn about Cecil and the birth of Ecotrust, read Spencer and Sam Beebe’s Cache: Creating Natural Economies (2010) or Spencer’s latest book, It’s Not Any House You Know: New Myths for a Changing Planet (2018). If you would like to learn more about the Magic Canoe, watch Spencer’s 2011 TEDxPortland Talk.