Dan George, Geswanouth Slahoot, Tsleil-Waututh (Salish), 1899-1981
Chief Dan George is an instantly recognizable national figure to practically all Canadians over the age of forty. Born as Geswanouth Slahoot in 1899 on the Burrard Native Reserve near Vancouver, British Columbia, this famous Native Canadian was an actual Native chief, an Academy Award nominated actor, an orator, a raconteur, a spiritual leader, and an author of several works. His name was forcibly changed to Dan George when he entered residential school, as was common practice in those days. Subsequently, after leaving high school, he held numerous jobs as a longshoreman, a construction worker, and even as a school bus driver. Dan George was chief of the Tsleil-Waututh First Nation from 1951 until 1963.
Remarkably, Dan George became a celebrated Hollywood actor at the late age of 70 after first starring in several CBC mini-series. His greatest film achievement was in Little Big Man (1970) with Dustin Hoffman, in which he received an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor. He also starred with Clint Eastwood as his humorous travel companion in Outlaw Josey Wales (1976) and subsequently went on to perform in numerous movies and television series such as: Harry and Tonto, Americathon, The Incredible Hulk, Bonanza, Kung Fu, and The Beachcombers, just to name a few.
Chief Dan George, however, is better known for his outspokenness on Native issues and, more importantly, for the way he spoke of them. His slow, powerful speaking voice was unforgettable, as were his renowned sayings, both legendary and visionary. Though he was characterized and is best remembered as a stereotypical “Indian” he was, in real life, an ardent environmentalist, spiritual healer, promoter of traditional values, and spokesperson for Canada’s Native peoples. Dan George was also a Native activist and in 1967, on Canada Day, he performed his famed Lament for Confederation speech in front of 35,000 people at Empire Stadium in Vancouver.
In 1971, Dan George was made an Officer of the Order of Canada. He died at the age of 82 in 1981. In 2008, Canada Post issued a stamp honouring him in its Canadians in Hollywood series. There are several schools and an even a theatre named after him. Dan George was truly a great Canadian national figure, a witty actor, and a decent human being who cared not only for his people, but also for the whole country.
Prose & Inspiration from Chief Dan George
“When the white man came, we had the land and they had the bibles. Now they have the land and we have the bibles.”
“Where no one intrudes, many can live in harmony.”
“When I fought to protect my land and my home, I was called a savage. When I neither understood nor welcomed this way of life, I was called lazy. When I tried to rule my people, I was stripped of my authority. “
O Great Spirit
O Great Spirit whose voice I hear in the winds,
I come to you as one of your many children.
I need your strength and wisdom.
Make me strong not to be superior to my brother,
But to be able to fight my greatest enemy: Myself!
May the stars carry your sadness away,
May the flowers fill your heart with beauty,
May hope forever wipe away your tears,
And, above all, may silence make you strong.
Chief Dan George, 1967