- Among the Beautiful
The following is a talk Chief Dan George gave at Western Washington State College (now known as Western Washington University) on May 5, 1971, when he was seventy-one years old. By then, he was nationally recognized for his film and television roles and for speaking out against the dishonorable treatment of First Nations peoples. On June 25, 1971, about seven weeks after this talk was given, he was awarded the prestigious Order of Canada for “services both as an actor and an interpreter of his people.”
My very good dear friends, was it only yesterday that men sailed around the moon and it is today they stand upon its barren surface? You and I marvel that men should travel so far and so fast, but if they have travelled far, then I farther. If they have travelled fast, then I faster. For I was born a thousand years ago, born in the culture of bows and arrows. Yet within the space of half a lifetime I was flown across the ages to the culture of the atom bomb; and from bows and arrows to atom bomb is a distance far beyond a flight to the moon.
I was born in an age that loved the things of nature and called it beautiful names like Teslelwhat instead of dried up names like Burrard Inlet. I was born in an age when people loved the things of nature and spoke to it as though it has a soul. I can remember going up the north arm to Indian River with my dad when I was very small. I can remember him watching the sun light fires on Mount Penany as it rose to its peak. I can remember him saying his thanks to it, as he often did, with the Indian word Hey-mushey-snocum. And then the people came. More and more people came. Like a crushing, rushing wave they came, hurling the years aside, and suddenly I found myself a young man in the midst of the twentieth century.
I found myself and my people adrift in this new age, but not a part of it. Engulfed by its rushing tide but only as a captive eddy, round and round. On little reserves, on plots of land we floated in a kind of gray unreality, unsure of who we were or where we were going, uncertain of our grip on the present, weak in our hope for the future. And that is where we pretty well stand today.
I had a glimpse of something better than this. I knew my people when they lived the old way. I knew them when there was still a dignity in our [End Page 13] lives, and a feeling of worth in our outlook. I knew them when there was unspoken confidence in the home, a certain knowledge of the path we walked upon. But we were living on the dying energy of a dying culture—a culture that was slowly losing its forward thrust.
I think it was the suddenness of it all that hurt us so. We did not have time to adjust to the startling upheaval around us. We seemed to have lost what we had without a replacement of it. We did not have time to take this twentieth-century progress and eat it little by little and digest it. It was forced feeding from the start, and our stomachs turned sick.
Do you know what it is like to be without moorings? Do you know what it is like to be in a surrounding that is strange, while all around you, you see strange things? It depresses man, for man must live among the beautiful if his soul is to grow.
Do you know what it’s like to have your race belittled, and to come to learn that you are only a burden to the country? Maybe we did not have the skills to make a meaningful contribution, but nobody would wait for us. We were shoved aside, because we were dumb and could not learn.
Do you know what it is like to be without pride in your race...