Chief Dan George Speaks on Native American Culture and America

Chief Dan George speaks about feeling like an outsider while trying to preserve his Native American culture in America.

| July/August 1971

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    Can we talk of integration until there is social integration? Unless there is integration in hearts and minds, you only have a physical presence and the walls are as high as the mountain tops. 
    Photo courtesy of Northwest Passage

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This piece was originally a presentation made at Western Washington State College on May 5, 1971.

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 life time 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 Mt. Penany as it rose to its peak. I can remember him saying his thanks to it as he often did, saying the Indian word, "hey-mus-hey-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 20th 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 in 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 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 which 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 20th-century progress and eat it little by little and digest it. It was forced feeding from the start, and our stomach turned sick.

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