How many Canadians can boast of an Oscar and Golden Globe nomination, a Golden Laurel Award, a National Society of Film Critics Award and a New York Film Critics Circle Award? All in the same year and all for portraying the same historical figure on film. And at the wise age of 72!
He was born Tes-Wah-No, and as a young boy was known as Dan Slaholt. Upon entering boarding school he took his father’s first name as his last, because speaking his tribal tongue was forbidden as were native Canadian names. After leaving school he worked as a longshoreman, a logger and a construction worker. His first acting role was not until he was in his mid sixties. But his most important job, and the name we all know him by came about in 1951.
In 1951 Tes-Wah-No became Chief Dan George. By the mid sixties he was a household name in North America. And in 1967 he gave the speech that would bring him to the fore front of the native rights movement.
The speech was entitled Lament For Confederation. He delivered it before 35,000 people on July first, Canada Day, 1967: Canada’s 100th anniversary. He delivered this speech in the hopes it would boost the self-esteem of his fellow natives, showing and imploring them that anyone could succeed as he had, anyone from a disadvantaged background: anyone, even if their government had suppressed them and denied them their true identity.
All true Canadians, new and old, should read Chief Dan George’s soliloquy Lament for Confederation. There’s a lesson in it for all of us. Chief Dan George would be happy to know his words had not fallen on deaf ears and were being heard 42 years later.
Hail to and respect the Chief.