Skookum Wawa

On Feb. 2, communities of BC’s northwest will be gathering in Terrace to celebrate the withdrawal of Shell’s plans to drill for coal bed methane in the Sacred Headwaters. Congratulations to all of those who worked so hard to pull this off. And while she’d hate to be singled out, Ali Howard’s swim down the entire length of the Skeena  River drew international attention to the threats Shell’s plans presented.

I wrote this poem to celebrate her achievement. For those of you who might need a bit of background for the Chinook terms in the poem, let me explain. I grew up on the south coast of BC where Chinook terms are commonplace: the ocean is the salt chuck; the wild rapids near Egmont on the Sechelt Peninsula  are called Skookum Chuck, which means powerful water. In 1975, Gary Geddes edited a collection of writing about the northwest, which he fittingly titled Skookum Wawa – powerful talk.

Skookum Wawa

Green meadows.
Spring grizzly grazing
in water welling through rooted sedges.
Waiting water
meanders until flatness finally falls,
falls in three directions.
Water becoming:
becoming Spatsizi, becoming Stikine, becoming Tahltan
becoming Nass, becoming Nisga’a
becoming Skeena, becoming Gitxsan, becoming Tsimshian,
the ancient submerged heart pumping
            life into this land.
Bright children leap laughing
to fall, to follow,
to trace in faith one great artery on its way
into the wide arms
of the salt chuck.
Chinook talk
their talk
skookum wawa.

3 thoughts on “Skookum Wawa

  1. Hi Sheila. I really love the sensations of water in this piece: water waiting, water becoming. Such a powerful moment in ‘flatness finally falls’. A simple way to say a great thing. Thanks.

  2. Hi Sheila. Good to hear that project was stopped. Myself and three friends traveled over from Ireland to fish the Skeena and Kitimat rivers in 2007. We had great fishing among spectacular scenery and wild life. Long may it continue.

    • Yes, it was a great victory. Now we are hard at work trying to stop another development – a tarsands pipeline which would pass through both the Fraser and Skeena watersheds to a proposed oil port at Kitimat – something we put a halt to over thirty years ago. Some things never seem to change – if you want to read more about the amazing work people are doing there, you can check out Say the Names.

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