Dan George as an Icon of Aboriginal Resistance. Dan George as Law Giver.
It is Boxing Day, 2012, as I begin this essay introducing Dan George’s speech at the Vancouver Coliseum on July 1st, 1967, the day billed as the main birthday celebration of Canada’s Centennial Year. By highlighting a First Nations perspective on law and legitimacy I seek to draw a contrast with the jurisprudence of the Supreme Court of Canada as articulated, for instance, in its rulings on the Sparrow and Van der Peet cases.
Dan George’s words have particular poignancy in this context because he was the head of the family that adopted Kwitsel Tatel after she was orphaned at the age of thirteen. I have been publishing in Veteran’s Today a running report on the case of Kwitsel Tatel, a proceeding that resumes in the Law Courts of Chilliwack British Columbia on January 14. Many of the major arguments being brought forward in this case of Kwitsel Tatel, which began in 2004, add background and depth to the major contentions of the Idle No More movement.
To this day Kwitsel Tatel, whose Christian name is Patricia Kelly, still refers to Dan George as “grandpa.” She often speaks, for instance, of her grandpa’s all-night guitar strumming sessions. These sessions were sometimes interspersed with avid political debates, as happened when the Shuswap scholar and sage of the Fourth World, George Manuel, dropped by for a festive visit.
A stage and screen actor of considerable accomplishment, Dan George would become in the 1970s one of the most recognizable Indian men in North America. This Coast Salish actor from the Vancouver area received an Oscar nomination after co-starring with Dustin Hoffman in Arthur Penn’s blockbuster Hollywood hit, Little Big Man. The movie perfectly captured the changing attitudes of the times in an era when old orthodoxies began to break down.
As Dan George moved into the spotlight of popular attention, public opinion was turning hostile towards, for example, the US military intervention in Vietnam. Changing perceptions on the expansionary character of US wars of aggression in southeast Asia tended to alter attitudes about many things, including the place of the Indian wars in US history. As a Hollywood icon embodying the downtrodden but indomitable spirit of Aboriginal America, Dan George adeptly used his celebrity to challenge power and alter public consciousness. His main theme was the contemporary dilemmas arising from the oppression of Indigenous peoples under the weight of a North American society engineered primarily to serve the needs and wants of immigrants and their descendants……