Chief Dan George’s political career ground to a halt 50 years ago today when the leader of the Burrard Indian band was voted out of office. But the 63-year-old said he was glad to be relieved of his duties.
“I have been so busy on other things, I have been neglecting my people,” said George, who was leader of the Burrard band for a dozen years. “They have voted against me to give me a rest.”
Ironically, his most famous political speech came after he was deposed as chief, when he was asked to speak at a 100th birthday party for Canada at Empire Stadium on July 1, 1967.
“In the long hundred years since the white man came, I have seen my freedom disappear like the salmon going mysteriously out to sea,” he said. “The white man’s strange customs, which I did not understand, pressed down upon me until I could no longer breathe.
“When I fought to protect my land and my home, I was called a savage. When I neither understood nor welcomed this way of life, I was called lazy. When I tried to rule my people, I was stripped of my authority.
“Oh Canada, how can I celebrate with you this centenary, this hundred years? Shall I thank you for the reserves that are left me of my beautiful forests? For the canned fish of my rivers? For the loss of my pride and authority, even among my own people?” George’s speech silenced the crowd of 32,000. Four years later, he would receive the Order of Canada. He died in 1981 at the age of 82.