Categories: Unconnected Notables of British Columbia | British Columbia Entertainers | British Columbia First Nations | British Columbia First Nations Figures | Burrard Cemetery, North Vancouver, British Columbia | Grammy Award Nominees of the 20th Century | North Vancouver, British Columbia | Officers of the Order of Canada | Tsleil-Waututh | British Columbia Notables.
Geswanouth Sla-holt was born on Burrard Indian Reserve No. 3 in North Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. His last name was recorded as George when he entered a mission boarding school at the age of 5, where the use of his native language was forbidden.
At the time of the 1921 Canada Census, Dan, Amy, and Bella George were listed as living on an Indian Reserve (probably Burrard Inlet, but possibly Capilano, Howe Sound, or Squamish Mission) in British Columbia, along with Dan's brother Thomas George. At the time of the census, Dan's occupation was listed as "Longshoreman".
Dan spent much of his early life as a working man: a longshoreman, a construction worker, a school bus driver, and musician. He had a country music band with some of his children, and was often performing at the War Canoe Races at Cultus Lake and many places on the canoe-racing and social circuits. They were often invited to play at other functions such as weddings and community celebrations.
From 1951 to 1963 he served as elected chief of the Burrard Band of North Vancouver, British Columbia (known as the Tsleil-Waututh First Nation today).
The public know "Chief Dan George" as a movie actor, who insisted on playing "good" First Nation characters. His role as Old Lodge Skins in Little Big Man (1970) led to a nomination for Best Supporting Actor in 1970. He continued to appear in a variety of films, and also became an accomplished stage actor. Besides television and the movies, was also a successful Canadian stage actor and appeared in The Ecstasy of Rita Joe in 1967. (It is worth noting that he was no longer a "chief" when he started his acting career - this mis-naming likely got attention through publicity, as he was one of the first known native/ aboriginal actors.)
Dan George was also a successful poet; his two books of poetry, My Heart Soars (1974) and My Spirit Soars (1982). He recited his famous work, "Lament for Confederation," at Vancouver, British Columbia's 1967 Canadian Centennial celebrations in Empire Stadium; the speech was a stirring - and unexpected - indictment of colonialism's impact on First Nations people and helped galvanise native political activism in British Columbia, and also created support and awareness among non-natives.
He was awarded the Officer of the Order of Canada on June 25, 1971 for his services to Canada.
In 2008 Canada Post issued a postage stamp in its "Canadians in Hollywood" series featuring Dan George, honouring prominent Canadians in Hollywood. The other stamps feature Marie Dressler, Norma Shearer, and Raymond Burr.
Actor Donald Sutherland quoted from George's poem "My Heart Soars" in the the opening ceremonies of the Vancouver 2010: XXI Olympic Winter Games.
A public middle school is named for Chief Dan George in Abbotsford, British Columbia and an elementary public school named after him in Toronto, Ontario.
Dan's public life was far removed from his life as a family man and an inspiring political activist. His love and devotion to his people, his life-long wife and children was very evident in his daily routines.
The George family are devout Catholics and were especially fond of the members of the Child Jesus Order of Sisters and the priests of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate. Father Bert Dunlop assisted Dan in compiling and writing most of his famous addresses at public events.
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