Published on February 9, 2012 by Amy
Chief Dan George, OC (July 24, 1899 – September 23, 1981) was a chief of the Tsleil-Waututh Nation, a Coast Salish band located on Burrard Inlet in North Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. He was also an author, poet, and an Academy Award-nominated actor.
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Born as Geswanouth Slahoot in North Vancouver, his English name was originally Dan Slaholt. The surname was changed to George when he entered a residential school at age 5. He worked at a number of different jobs, including as a longshoreman, construction worker, and school bus driver, and was band chief of the Tsleil-Waututh Nation from 1951 to 1963 (then called the Burrard Indian Band.
In 1960, when he was already 60 years old, he landed his first acting job in a CBC Television series, Cariboo Country, as the character, Ol’ Antoine (pron. “Antwine”). He performed the same role in a Walt Disney Studios movie, Smith!, adapted from an episode in this series (based on Breaking Smith’s Quarter Horse, a novella by Paul St. Pierre). At age 71, he won several awards for his role in the film Little Big Man. He received a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. He continued to act in other films, such as The Outlaw Josey Wales, Harry and Tonto, and Americathon, and on television, including a role in the miniseriesCentennial, based on the book by James A. Michener, as well as appearing in a 1973 episode of the original Kung Fu series.
He played the role of Rita Joe’s father in George Ryga’s stage play, The Ecstasy of Rita Joe, in performances at Vancouver, the National Arts Centre in Ottawa, and Washington, D.C..
During his acting career, he worked to promote better understanding by non-aboriginals of the First Nations people. His soliloquy, Lament for Confederation, an indictment of the appropriation of native territory by white colonialism, was performed at the City of Vancouver’s celebration of the Canadian centennial in 1967. This speech is credited with escalating native political activism in Canada, as well as touching off widespread pro-native sentiment among non-natives.
In 1971, Chief Dan George was made an Officer of the Order of Canada. In 2008 Canada Post issued a postage stamp in its “Canadians in Hollywood” series featuring Chief Dan George.
He died in Vancouver in 1981 at the age of 82. He was interred at Burrard Cemetery.
He was included on the famous Golden Rule Poster under “Native Spirituality” with the quote: “We are as much alive as we keep the earth alive”.
Canadian actor Donald Sutherland narrated the following quote from his poem “My Heart Soars” in the opening ceremonies of the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver.
The beauty of the trees,
the softness of the air,
the fragrance of the grass,
speaks to me.
And my heart soars.