CHIEF DAN GEORGE: ACTOR & ACTIVIST

TEACHER’S ANSWER SHEET

Chief Dan George and His Indian Entertainers, 1960
Credits: Courtesy of the UBC Museum of Anthropology Archives, Vancouver, Canada – Anthony Carter fonds. MOA a038273c141

IMAGE ONE – ‘Chief Dan George and His Indian Entertainers’

Questions:

  1. What tells us that these are ‘Indian’ musicians?
  2. Why are these Coast Salish performers wearing ‘Plains Indian’ costumes?
  3. This performance was said to be form of resistance. What do you think was the impact of this resistance?

Answers:

  1. Their clothing looks like Hollywood-style (Plains Indian) dress.
  2. The Canadian Indian Act prohibited Indigenous people from wearing their own traditional clothing or performing their own songs and dances until 1951. But this ‘Plains Indian’ clothing style had been made popular in books and American films  of the mid 20th century, and so the performers continued to wear Plains style clothing even after the ban was lifted.
  3. Despite the Indian Act, the performers were able to appear at events, wearing these costumes but performing their traditional songs and dances. Doing so, helped preserve local Tsleil-Waututh traditions at a time when it was illegal to do so, thus ensuring their survival. This aspect of Tsleil-Waututh culture is still performed in part through the ‘Children of Takaya Dance Group’ that Chief Dan George formed (after 1951).

Black Paddle Jacket and Photo of Chief Dan George Receiving the Order of Canada (1971)
Credits: Photograph by Tazim Damji, NVMA Volunteer; NVMA 16020

IMAGE TWO – Black Paddle Jacket and Chief Dan George Receiving the Order of Canada

Questions:

  1. What is unique about the first jacket? Do you see ‘paddles’ on it?
  2. Describe what is happening in the second photo.
  3. What is the significance of Chief Dan George wearing this outfit at a formal event?

Answers:

  1. The black jacket has decorations of miniature Coast Salish canoe paddles on the front (and back).
  2. This is a photo of Chief Dan George at a formal ceremony.  He is in full ceremonial dress and is being observed by other dignitaries. (He is being inducted into the Order of Canada for his work as an actor and activist for his people).
  3. For this formal occasion, he wore his regalia—a black paddle jacket—as an expression of pride in his culture.

Collage of Film Posters
Credits: Ria Kawaguchi

IMAGE THREE – Collage of Film Posters

Questions:

  1. What do you see in this collage of posters?
  2. What types of films was Chief Dan George in?
  3. What made him stand out as an Indigenous actor?
  4. How are Indigenous people portrayed in media and film/TV today?

Answers:

  1. These are posters of films and TV shows in which Chief Dan George acted.
  2. Chief Dan George mostly starred in westerns and played Indigenous characters.
  3. As an actor, Chief Dan George wanted to shed the stereotypical image of Indigenous people in film and purposefully chose roles that showed positive and culturally accurate images.
  4. In general, Indigenous people are portrayed more positively than before (e.g. Arctic Air, North of 60, Wind Talkers). There are now Indigenous filmmakers telling their own stories (e.g. Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner).

Purple Paddle Jacket
Credits: Photograph by Tazim Damji, NVMA Volunteer

IMAGE FOUR – Purple Paddle Jacket

Questions:

  1. What does the fact that Chief Dan George wore this purple paddle jacket to the awards event tell you?
  2. What do you think about this mix of traditional and modern dress?

Answers:

  1. Chief Dan George’s flashy 1970s version of the paddle jacket reveals both a  pride in Coast Salish culture and a willingness to modernize and adapt to the modern world. He showcased his Indigenous roots and cultural pride by wearing a jacket that was based upon traditional attire. Having a modern purple jacket suggests that he wanted to fit into the modern movie culture as well.
  2. This is another example of his desire to make Coast Salish culture part of the mainstream world and culture.

Chief Dan George Postage Stamp, 2008
Credits: Photograph by Tazim Damji, NVMA Volunteer

IMAGE FIVE – Chief Dan George Postage Stamp

Questions:

  1. What does this stamp tell you about Chief Dan George’s historical significance?
  2. In the background of the stamp there are teepees. Is this appropriate?

Answers:

  1. Chief Dan George’s image was used on this postage stamp issued in 2008. Generally, individuals who have their image on postage stamps are well-known and have made a contribution to Canada. They are chosen by the Canada Post Stamp Advisory Committee.
  2. This is unusual as the Coast Salish Tsleil-Waututh people never lived in teepees. Perhaps this an error and reflects our continued interest in Plains Indian images.

Poems by Chief Dan George
Credits: The best of Chief Dan George, p. 59 and 70

Photo by Preston L. Tait, BCMC 40:44

IMAGE SIX – Poems by Chief Dan George

Questions:

  1. What values and attitude to nature does Chief Dan George express in these poems?
  2. In what ways do local Indigenous nations continue to protect the environment?

Answers:

  1. He expresses great love and respect for the natural world and decries the loss of wilderness. He worries that he has not taken enough action to protect the environment.
  2. Many Coast Salish people continue to work to protect our forests, waterways and oceans. They can be seen in the media protesting developments that may be detrimental to the environment. They participate on government planning committees and as advisors with many industries.

In Circle Album Cover and Chief Dan George with Guitar
Credits: Photograph by Tazim Damji, NVMA Volunteer and by Lorraine Fenkner, Courtesy of Carol Lord.

IMAGE SEVEN – In Circle Album Cover and Chief Dan George with Guitar

Questions:

  1. Looking closely at the In Circle album cover, identify non-Indigenous design elements.
  2. Compare the second photo with Image One (above). What does this tell us about Chief Dan George?

Answers:

  1. Unusual colours, a bolt of lighting, a fireweed plant are featured along with musicians in jeans and t-shirts. There are no Coast Salish design elements.
  2. In Image One, he is presented in a way that was expected by mainstream audiences. In the second photo, he presents himself as he really was – a modern, fashionable Indigenous musician.

Chief Dan George Holding a Black Staff
Credits: Courtesy of the UBC Museum of Anthropology Archives, Vancouver, Canada – Anthony Carter fonds. MOA a038355c

IMAGE EIGHT – Chief Dan George Holding a Black Staff

Questions:

  1. The previous seven images have spoken to Chief Dan George’s life and legacy. Have you found that these images support the claim that Chief Dan George was a person of historical significance? Please provide evidence for your answer.

Suggested Answers:

  • Chief Dan George worked to preserve his community’s traditional songs and dances at a time when it was illegal to do so.
  • He formed the ‘Children of Takaya Dance Group’ which still exists today, ensuring cultural continuity.
  • His work in the arts enabled the Tsleil-Waututh to reclaim parts of their culture that might otherwise have been lost.
  • He was an internationally recognized actor who challenged the negative stereotypes of Indigenous people, and helped change the way non-Indigenous people view Indigenous people.
  • He promoted pride in Indigenous culture.
  • Chief Dan George’s work as an actor and activist increased awareness about his culture locally, and built awareness of Indigenous cultures across the country.
  • Chief Dan George’s environmentalism established a legacy of activism in his community.