Magazine article UNESCO Courier

'I Was Born 1,000 Years Ago.': Open Letter from Chief Dan George of the Capilano Indians. (Ethics - January 1975)

Magazine article UNESCO Courier

'I Was Born 1,000 Years Ago.': Open Letter from Chief Dan George of the Capilano Indians. (Ethics - January 1975)

Article excerpt

My very good dear friends :

WAS it only yesterday that man sailed around the moon? You and I marvel that men should travel so far and so fast, yet If they have travelled far then I have travelled farther, and if they have travelled fast then I faster, for I was born a thousand years ago, born in a culture of bows and arrows. But within the span of half a lifetime I was flung across the ages to the culture of the atom bomb and from bows and arrows to atom bombs is a distance far beyond the flight to the moon.

I was born in an age that loved the things of nature and gave them beautiful names like "Tessoualouit" instead of dried up names like "Stanley Park". I was born when people loved nature and spoke to it as though it has a soul: I can remember going up Indian river with my father when I was very young. I can remember him watching the sunlight fires on Mount Pe-Ne-Ne. I can remember him singing his thanks to it as he often did, singing the Indian word "thanks" very very softly.

And the new 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 going round and round. On little reserves and plots of land, we floated in a kind of grey unreality, ashamed of our culture which you ridiculed, unsure of who we were and where we were going, uncertain of our grip on the present, weak in our hope of the future.

I had a glimpse of something better than this for a few brief years. I knew my people when they lived the old life; I knew them when there was still a dignity in their lives and a feeling of worth in their outlook; I knew them when there was unspoken confidence in the home and a certain knowledge of the path they walked upon. But they were living on the dying energy of a dying culture, a culture that was slowly losing its forward thrust.

We did not have time to adjust to the startling upheaval around us; we seem to have lost what we had without a replacement; we did not have time to take our twentieth-century progress and eat it little by little and digest It.

Do you know what it is like to be without moorings? Do you know what it is like to live in surroundings that are ugly? It depresses man, for man must be surrounded by the beautiful if his soul is to grow.

Do you know what it is like to feel you are of no value to society and those around you, to know that people came to help you but not to work with you, for you knew that they knew you had nothing to offer. Do you know what it is like to have your race belittled, and have you been made aware of the fact that you are only a burden to the country? Maybe we did not have the skills to make a meaningful contribution, but no one would wait for us to catch up. We were shrugged aside because we were dumb and could never learn.

What is it like to be without pride in your race? Pride in your family? Pride and confidence in yourself? What is it like? You don't know for you never tasted its bitterness. I shall tell you what it is like. It is like not caring about tomorrow for what does tomorrow matterI It is like having a reserve that looks like a junkyard because the beauty in the soul is dead and why should the soul express an external beauty that does not match it?

And now, you hold out your hand and you beckon to me to come over: "Come and integrate", you say, but how can I come? …

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