Considered Mohawk by British law (because her father was a Mohawk hereditary clan chief), but excluded from the matrilineally defined Mohawk tribal clans (because her mother wasn’t Mohawk), Pauline Johnson was a mixed-race Canadian who made a living at the turn of the last century primarily as a performer, reciting her own poetry with its mix of Aboriginal and English influences.
I don’t know if her works are taught much in Canadian schools today – well, other than in the four that are named after her – but she’s had some impressive honours:
- Being listed as a Person of National Historic Significance in 1945
- Having a stamp issued on the centennial of her birth in 1961 – the first woman (other than the Queen), the first author, and the first Aboriginal person to be so honoured in Canada
- Having Donald Sutherland read her work at the opening ceremonies of the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver
Know by the thread of music woven through
This fragile web of cadences I spin,
That I have only caught these songs since you
Voiced them upon your haunting violin.
This is one of a series on Canadian national treasures – my sesquicentennial project. They reflect people (living and dead), places and things that I think are worth celebrating about our country, and are done in no order of precedence.
Sharing is good . . .