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 your wisdom.
Make me strong not to be superior to my brother,
but to be able to fight my greatest enemy:
Chief Dan George was also known as: Geswanouth Slahoot
(means: Thunder coming up over the land from the water)
Born on July 24, 1899, died on September 23, 1981.
He was born son of the Chief of the Coast Salish Tribe in Vancouver, British Columbia, and given the native name of "Tes-wah-no", but known in English as Dan Slaholt. At the age of five, he was sent to a mission boarding school and was given the surname of "George". While there, he and his friends were forbidden to speak anything but English. At the age of seventeen, he left the school and began a string of jobs that would eventually lead to his acting debut.
At the age of 24, he worked as a longshoreman off and on until 1947, when a swingload of lumber smashed into him. His leg and hip muscles were severely injured, but no bones were broken. After overcoming these injuries, he began working in construction. Later, he became a school bus driver. It was then that he was asked to try out for the role of the aging Indian, "Old Antoine", in the CBC series Cariboo Country.
Soon critics were describing him as one of the "finest natural actors anywhere." Walt Disney studios adapted the series into a movie named "Smith!". A critic wrote that Dan George as Old Antoine played the role to "ultimate perfection." This role paved the road to acting in other movies.
Chief Dan George was over 60 when he became a movie actor. His many films included:
The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976)
Shadow of the Hawk (1976)
Bears and I (1974)
Harry and Tonto (1974)
Alien Thunder (1973)
Dan Candy's Law (1973)
Little Big Man (1970)
Old Lodge Skins: Don't worry my son, you will be back with us, I dreamed it last night. I saw you with your wives.
Little Big Man: Wives, Grandfather?
Old Lodge Skins: Yes, there were three... or four, it was hard to tell. It was very dark in your teepee and they were under buffalo rugs as you crawled among them. Anyway, it was a great copulation.
His performance in "Smith!" led to an invitation to be "Old Lodge Skins" in the 1970 movie, "Little Big Man". He was nominated for an Oscar as best supporting actor, and in 1971 he won the New York Film Critics Award and the National Society of Film Critics Award for his work in this film.
He was also a notable stage actor, most prominently recognized for his role of the father in George Ryga's play, "The Ecstasy of Rita Joe".
Love is something you and I must have. We must have it because our spirit feeds upon it. We must have it because without it we become weak and faint. Without love our self esteem weakens. Without it our courage fails. Without love we can no longer look out confidently at the world. Instead we turn inwardly and begin to feed upon our own personalities and little by little we destroy ourselves.
He was an actual Chief of the Burrard
tribe of the Tel-lal-watt
section of the Coast Salish
nation from 1951-1963, then was succeeded by his son Leonard. He later was declared honorary chief of the Squamish
bands. He and his wife Amy had six children: Marie, Ann, Irene, Rose, Leonard and Bob. Amy died in 1971 as her husband prepared to go to Hollywood for the Oscar ceremonies.
I cannot tell you how deeply I miss my wife's presence when I return from a trip. Her love was my greatest joy, my strength, my greatest blessing.
As a result of his success and moment in the spotlight, he became spokesman for native people throughout North America
. One of his first appearances as spokesman was in Vancouver for its Centennial celebration in 1967. It was there that he orated his much publicized "A Lament for Confederation
". The message therein was a clear calling for tolerance, understanding and integration of native peoples:
"What one fears, one destroys."
Actor and publisher, both, Chief Dan George has written well-respected books:
"My Heart Soars", 1974
"You Call Me Chief : Impressions of the Life of Chief Dan George", co-authored by Hilda Mortimer, 1981
"My Spirit Soars", Published post-humously, 1982
In 1972, at the age of 73, Chief Dan George was honoured with a Doctor of Laws degree from Simon Fraser University. The following year, he was further honored with a Doctor of Letters from the University of Brandon.
He lived almost his entire life on the reserve where he was born, until 1981, when he died from heart failure.
The sunlight does not leave its marks on the grass.
So we, too, pass silently.
Blockquotes from Chief Dan George's book, My Heart Soars