Published on June 24, 2012 by Amy
Gordon Tootoosis CM (October 25, 1941 – July 5, 2011) was a Canadian actor. He was of Cree and Stoney descent. Tootoosis was a descendant of Yellow Mud Blanket, brother of the famous Cree leader Pitikwahanapiwiyin. He was acclaimed for his commitment to preserving his culture and to telling his people’s stories. He served as a founding member of the board of directors of the Saskatchewan Native Theatre Company. Tootoosis offered encouragement, support and training to aspiring Aboriginal actors. He served as a leading Cree activist both as a social worker and as a band chief. In Open Season and Boog and Elliot’s Midnight Bun Run, Tootoosis was the voice of Sheriff Gordy.
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He was awarded membership in the Order of Canada on October 29, 2004. The investiture ceremony took place on September 9, 2005. His citation recognizes him as an inspirational role model for Aboriginal youth. It notes that as a veteran actor, he portrayed memorable characters in movie and television productions in Canada and the United States.
Tootoosis was raised with his 13 siblings in the Plains Cree tradition until he was taken from his home (placing First Nations children into residential schools was Canadian federal government policy at the time) and placed in a Catholic residential school, where he was treated harshly and forbidden to speak his own language. His father, John Tootoosis, was an activist for aboriginal rights, which got the younger Tootoosis into trouble at school.
After his traumatic school years, Tootoosis went into social work, specializing in work with children and young offenders. His interest in his own cultural traditions led him to become an accomplished native dancer and rodeo roper, and he toured with the Plains InterTribal Dance Troupe in the 1960s and 1970s throughout Canada, Europe and South America, becoming one of North America’s most popular powwow announcers.
His father was one of the founders of the National Indian Brotherhood and former head of the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations (FSIN). Gordon himself served as the chief of his band and as a vice-president of FSIN. Tootoosis was married to Irene Seseequasis since 1965. They have three daughters and two adopted sons. After their daughter Glynnis died of cancer in 1997, they took the responsibility of raising her four children in Saskatoon.
His first acting role was in the film Alien Thunder (1974), with Chief Dan George and Donald Sutherland. He portrayed Albert Golo in 52 episodes of North of 60 in the 1990s. He is best known to British audiences for playing the Native American Joe Saugus, who negotiates the purchase of the Middlesbrough Transporter Bridge in Auf Wiedersehen, Pet series 3 (2002). Gordon appeared in the CBC Television mini-series By Way of the Stars with Eric Schweig as Black Thunder and Tantoo Cardinal as Franoise. Tootoosis starred with Russell Means in Disney’s Pocahontas (1995) and Song of Hiawatha (1997). In 1999, he and Tantoo Cardinal became founding members of the board of directors of the Saskatchewan Native Theatre Company. In 2011, he appeared in Gordon Winter at the Persephone Theatre in Saskatoon and Prairie Scene in Ottawa, his first stage role in 15 years.
Tootoosis won a Gemini Award for his work on the animated show Wapos Bay: The Series and was nominated twice for his work on North of 60.
Tootoosis died on July 5, 2011 at the age of 69 after being hospitalized for pneumonia at St. Paul’s Hospital in Saskatoon. His funeral and interment were held on the Poundmaker Cree Nation Reserve.