Brennan’s picks: The Best of Chief Dan George

Staff Pick Saturday! Brennan recommends: The Best of Chief Dan George by Chief Dan George and Helmut Hirnschall and Little Big Man.

“Over the last couple months, I’ve had the good fortune to represent the library in our partnership with The Wellness Almanac to co-host a sharing circle led by the incredible Tanina Williams. Envisioned as a safe space for Indigenous and non-Indigenous people to talk about building a better relationship on this unceded territory. It’s been an amazing experience and I’ve learned so much that I should have known long ago.

One such thing is the amazing life and work of Geswanouth Slahoot, better known as Chief Dan George. Born in 1899, a member of the Tsleil-Waututh Nation of the Burrard Inlet, Chief Dan witnessed many changes for his people in the 82 years he walked the earth. Pretty terrible changes. After a childhood spent in residential school, he tried his hand as a bus driver, construction worker, travelling musician, longshoreman and of course Band Chief and all the while he was writing, singing, creating and thinking about ways the land could be shared to the benefits of all the beings that inhabit it.

At age 60 Chief Dan embarked on a new career. In 1960 he was cast for a role in the CBC series Cariboo Country and with no formal training his natural and instinctive acting got him noticed. The parts began to roll in and eventually he was cast as Old Lodge Skins in Little Big Man. The film bucked the tropes of the American western by portraying the military in a realistic (unflattering) light and showing the “Indians” as nuanced human beings. Chief Dan’s Old Lodge Skins was so natural, funny and believable that he was nominated for the Best Supporting Actor Oscar.

After that role he never lacked for acting work but his greatest achievement is the work he did advocating for the rights and dignity of Indigenous peoples and the land. Many of his poems are collected in The Best of Chief Dan George. I opened the book and didn’t set it down until it was finished. It’s beautiful. Many pieces are uplifting while many reflect despair.

I’ve barely scratched the surface here.
I encourage you to learn more about this amazing man.”

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