September 3, 2011
Like Chief Kenny Blacksmith and Chief Joseph Brant, Chief Dan George has left a remarkable legacy across Canada. In the 1990 North Vancouver Centennial book, Chuck Davis describes Chief Dan George as one of North Vancouver’s most famous citizens. Born on July 24th 1899, Chief Dan George died at age 82 on September 12th 1981. His birth name was Gwesanouth/Teswahno Slahoot, meaning ‘thunder coming up over the land from the water.’ He memorably said that “A man who cannot be moved by a child’s sorrow will only be remembered with scorn.” In getting to know and pray with his son Robert/Bob George, I gained a glimpse of the deep spirituality and humanity of his father.
I recently had the privilege of attending the fifth Annual Tsleil-Watuth Nation Cultural Arts Festival held at Cates Park/Whey-ah-Wichen. This year the festival celebrated the 30-year legacy of Chief Dan George. While there, I attended the Legacy tent where I was videoed sharing my understanding of Chief Dan George’s legacy. Afterwards, the Legacy Tent leader Cheyenne Hood agreed to be interviewed for this Deep Cove Crier article: “…My mother is Deborah George, who is the daughter of Robert George, who is the son of Chief Dan George. He is my Great-Grandfather. A lot of people while I was growing up used to ask me what it was like to have Chief Dan George as your Great-Grandfather. To be honest, I never really knew of his fame, the things that he had done, because I was a fairly young child. To me, he was always just Grandpa Dan, or Papa Dan. I didn’t know that he was a movie star. I didn’t know that he went to Hollywood. I didn’t know that he was a writer or a poet. He was just a grandfather.”
“‘My best memory of him’, said Cheyenne, “is after his wife died. He used to take turns with different children and spending time in their homes. His daughter Rosemary used to have an old house that had a steep set of stairs. It faced the Burrard inlet. They had a swing in the backyard. We were over visiting my grandparents and we went trucking over there to see who was at the swing, to see who I could play with for the day. I saw Grandpa Dan sitting on the porch, facing the water. He had his face up to the sun, and he kind of reminded me of a turtle on the rock.”
“My curiosity got the better of me, so I walked up the stairs and said: “Grandpa, what are you doing?’ He took a few minutes to answer me and said: ‘I am sitting’. He said: ‘Do you want to come sit with me?’ So I climbed to the top of the stairs, and sat down there beside his feet. He was sitting there with his face to the sun. I said: “Grandpa, what are you doing?” He said: ‘Do you feel that?’ And he leaned his head back and he had his eyes closed. I kept looking at him: ‘What is he doing?’ So I mimicked him, copied him and closed my eyes with my face to the sun. He said: ‘Do you feel that?’ After a few minutes, I said: ‘Yes, I do.” He said: “What is that?” I said: ‘That is the sun on my face.’ Then he started to talk about the importance of the sun and what it does for mother earth, and what it does for nature, and nature’s cycles. I sat there feeling the warmth of the sun spread across my face.”
“Grandpa Dan said: ‘Do you hear that?’ So I listened quietly. I said: ‘Yes, I do.’ I said: ‘What is that?’ He said: ‘That is the wind blowing through the trees.’ Grandpa smiled, a really faint kind of smile. Then he started talking about the importance of the wind and the role that it plays with the trees and the music that it makes.”
“Then he said: ‘Do you smell that?’ I am still sitting there with my eyes closed. I said: ‘Yes, I do.’ He said: ‘What do you smell?’ I said: ‘I smell the salt from the inlet.’ Then he started talking about the role that the water and the inlet played for our people and our nation, and how when the tide went out, we were able to go out and feast and eat. We had clams and mussels and crabs and we could fish, and we could harvest sea food. He said: ‘Do you hear that?’ I sat for another few minutes listening, and then I said: ‘Yes, I can hear that.’ He said: ‘What do you hear?’ I said: ‘I hear the waves crashing against the rocks.’ Then he started talking about the history of the Tsleil-Watuth Nation people, and how we came to be, and how we moved through this life and this world. I sat and I listened and we were quiet for a few minutes, and then I opened up my eyes. He was looking down at me and he was smiling. I said: ‘What are we listening for now, Grandpa?’ He said: ‘Nothing’. I said: ‘What are you going to do now, Grandpa?’ I just wanted to be near him, I just wanted to be with him. He said: ‘Now we are going to go inside and have tea and bannocks’. And we did.”
Chief Dan George once said: “I would be a sad man if it were not for the hope I see in my grandchild’s eyes.” Chuck Davis of the Greater Vancouver book commented that Chief Dan George “embodied the dignified elder.” As one of eleven children, he became a longshoreman, working on the waterfront for twenty-seven years until he smashed his leg in a car accident aboard a lumber scow. Chief Dan George also worked as a logger, construction worker, and school bus driver. He formed a small dance band, playing in rodeos and legion halls. His instrument was the double-bass.
In the original Deep Cove Heritage book ‘Echoes Across the Inlet”, it speaks about how Chief Dan George gave his historic Centennial ‘Lament for Confederation’ address in 1967 to 30,000 people at the Empire Stadium in Vancouver. Memorably he commented: “I shall see our young braves and our chiefs sitting in the houses of law and government, ruling and being ruled by the knowledge and freedoms of our great land. So shall we shatter the barriers of our isolation. So shall the next hundred years be the greatest in the proud history of our tribes and nations.” Sent to residential school at age 5, Chief Dan George never lived to see the day when Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the Government of Canada apologized to the First Nations people for the trauma many experienced in the Residential Schools.
He first acted in the 1968 TV Series ‘Cariboo Road’ which became the movie “Smith”. He went on to win the 1970 Oscar for Best Supporting Actor in the hit movie Little Big Man. Chief Dan George made famous the phrase: “It is a good day to die”. Dustin Hoffman commented “I was amazed at his energy (he was in his seventies); he was always prepared with his lines; it was a six-day week; we were shooting thirteen hours a days.” Helmut Hirnschall noted that “His quiet assertion, his whispered voice, his cascading white hair, his furrowed face with the gentle smile became a trademark for celluloid success.”
From there, he went on to act in many films and TV shows, including The Outlaw Josey Wales, Harry and Tonto, and the TV series Centennial.
Many honours have been given to Chief Dan George including being made an Officer of the Order on Canada in 1971. In 2008 Canada Post issued a postage stamp in its “Canadians in Hollywood” series featuring Dan George. Schools and theatres have been named after him. In the opening ceremonies of the Vancouver Olympic Games, his poem “My Heart Soars” was quoted by Actor Donald Sutherland. To me, Chief Dan George was a Benjamin Franklin of the indigenous world.
His poetry and prayers are gripping and unforgettable. As Chief Dan George said; “…I am small and weak. I need your wisdom. May I walk in beauty. Make my eyes ever behold the red and purple sunset. Make my hands respect the things that you have made, and my ears sharp to hear your voice. Make me wise so that I may know the things that you have taught your children, the lessons you have hidden in every leaf and rock. Make me strong not to be superior to my brothers but to fight my greatest enemy –myself. Make me ever ready to come with you with straight eyes so that when life fades as with the fading sunset, my spirit will come to you without shame.”
The Rev. Ed Hird, Rector
St Simon’s Church North Vancouver
Anglican Mission in the Americas (Canada)
-an article published in the October 2011 Deep Cove Crier
-award-winning author of the book ‘Battle for the Soul of Canada’
-In order to obtain a copy of the book ‘Battle for the Soul of Canada’, please send a $18.50 cheque to ‘Ed Hird’, #1008-555 West 28th Street, North Vancouver, BC V7N 2J7. For mailing the book to the USA, please send $20.00 USD. This can also be done by PAYPAL using the e-mail email@example.com . Be sure to list your mailing address. The Battle for the Soul of Canada e-book can be obtained for $9.99CDN/USD.
-Click to download a complimentary PDF copy of the Battle for the Soul study guide : Seeking God’s Solution for a Spirit-Filled Canada
-You can also download the complimentary Leader’s Guide PDF: Battle for the Soul Leaders Guide
August 2, 2010
My wife and I had the privilege of attending the First Peoples Forgiven Summit in Ottawa. During that time we were able to meet a number of Mohawk believers, including Jonathan Maracle of Broken Walls who led us in remarkable worship music. Canada’s most famous Mohawk was Chief Joseph Brant. Recently the Canadian Royal Mint produced a Canadian Loonie with the imprint of Chief Joseph Brant (1742-1807). More Canadians need to hear this story of this Canadian hero. He was described by Mark Jodoin as having the mind of a statesman, the heart of a leader, and the soul of a warrior. Without the military and spiritual support of Chief Brant, Canada would have likely never survived.
Chief Joseph Brant’s Mohawk name was Thayendanegea which means “two sticks bound together for strength”. Isabel Thompson Kelsay notes that “the most famous (aboriginal) who ever lived, has been for two centuries a virtual unknown.” I suspect that he is unknown to most North Americans because he chose the side of Canada in the American revolutionary war. As Canada’s premier First Nations leader, Brant had the privilege of meeting both Georges in person: King George III and President George Washington.
Brant learned to speak, read and write English at a New Hampshire school led by Rev Wheelock. Wheelock described Brant as being “of a sprightly genius, a manly and gentle deportment, and of a modest, courteous and benevolent temper.” In 1772, Brant was then mentored by Rev John Stuart, being trained in the art of Bible and Prayer Book translation. During that time, Brant developed a deep prayer life, becoming a committed Anglican Christian.
During the American Revolutionary war, Brant was falsely accused of committing atrocities in locations which he was not present, including the tragic Wyoming and Cherry Valley Massacres. Those who knew Brant well testified that he often prevented atrocities through the use of his persuasive leadership. As a devout Anglican Christian, he exhibited compassion and humanity, especially towards women, children, and non-combatants. American Colonel Ichabod Alden commented that he “should much rather fall into the hands of Brant than either of them [Loyalists and Tories].” It was frequently said of Joseph Brant that during the American revolution, he fought with a tomahawk in one hand, a copy of the New Testament in the other.
Joseph Brant’s father was one of the sachem/chiefs, known as the Four Indian Kings, who visited Queen Anne in 1710. These chiefs asked ‘for missionaries to be sent to the People of the Longhouse to teach them more about Christianity.” Queen Anne sent this request to the Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury, promising to build them a chapel. In 1711, Queen Anne’s Royal Chapel was built in the Mohawk Valley in New York State. When the Mohawks relocated to Southern Ontario, the Mohawk Royal Chapel was rebuilt there in 1785. Joseph Brant’s grave is located right next to the historic Mohawk Chapel, the oldest protestant church in Ontario. Just this past July, Queen Elizabeth, while visiting Ontario, presented the Mohawk Chapel with a set of eight silver hand bells engraved ‘The Silver Chain of Friendship 1710-2010’.
On each side of the Mohawk Chapel pulpit are two tablets in the Mohawk language of the Lord’s Prayer and the Ten Commandments. Joseph Brant was a brilliant linguist translating the Bible and Anglican Prayer Book into Mohawk (of which there are microfiche copies at Simon Fraser University). He also wrote a concise history of the Bible and a Mohawk language catechism. Brant spoke at least three and possibly all of the Six Nations’ languages. When the Chapel was dedicated in 1788, each person was given a Mohawk book containing the Gospel of Mark and the Anglican Prayer Book. At that celebration, sixty five Mohawks were baptized and three couples were married.
When Joseph Brant first visited England in 1775, he was described by a British commander as ‘His Majesty’s greatest North American subject.’, and painted in full aboriginal regalia by George Romney. Receiving a captain’s commission, Brant met with the King on two occasions, with a dinner being held in his honour. Brant was honoured by the English leaders in the arts, letters and government, including James Boswell, the famed biographer of Samuel Johnson.
In 1779 Brant was commissioned by the King as ‘captain of the Northern Confederate Indians’ in recognition of his “astonishing activity and success’. Brant was described as “the perfect soldier, possessed of remarkable stamina, courage under fire, and dedicated to the cause, an able and inspiring leader and a complete gentleman.”
Joseph Brant’s Six Nations were tragically driven out of their homeland in Central New York. Brant was hurt that in granting their Mohawk homeland in Central New York State to the Americans, England had ‘sold the Indians to the US Congress’. Writing to King George III, he reminded the British that “we, the Mohawks, were the first Indian Nation that took you by hand and invited you to live among us, treating you with kindness…” The Six Nations were eventually resettled by Governor Frederick Haldimand in the Grand River area around modern-day Brantford. The British realized that locating the Six Nations in the Grand River area would be a natural protection against any future American invasion. Initially the Mississauga First Nation resisted the concept of having their former foes on their land. One Mississauga Chief Pokquan however persuaded his other chiefs by arguing that other aboriginals would be better neighbours than European settlers, and that Brant’s knowledge of the British could prove useful.
The term Brantford comes from Brant’s Ford, the shallow part of the Grand River that could be forded. The first years at Brantford were difficult as there was a drought with game being hard to find. Throughout all the challenges, Chief Brant’s deep faith sustained him. Chief Brant’s sacrificial love for God and nation should inspire all of us. He memorably said: “No person among us desires any other reward for performing a brave and worthwhile action but the consciousness of having served one’s nation.”