Published on January 23, 2011 by Carol
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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. He was also an author, poet and an Academy Award-nominated actor.
Chief Dan George was born as Geswanouth Slahoot in North Vancouver. His English name originally was Dan Slaholt. His last name was changed to George when he entered a residential school at the age of 5. George worked at a number of different jobs, including as a longshoreman, construction worker and school bus driver. He was chief of the Tsleil-Waututh Nation from 1951 to 1963.
In 1960, when he was already 60 years old, he got his first job acting in a CBC Television series, Cariboo Country, as the character “Ol’ Antoine”. 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 the age of 71, George won several awards for his role in the film Little Big Man, including 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 miniseries Centennial, based on the book by James A. Michener, as well as appearing in a 1973 episode of the original Kung Fu series, with David Carradine.
George 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, George 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, 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 Dan George.
He died in Vancouver in 1981 at the age of 82. He was interred at Burrard Cemetery