National Treasure #27: Pauline Johnson

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.


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4 Responses to National Treasure #27: Pauline Johnson

  1. Tom Watson says:

    Janice, my wife, has the middle name Pauline. Named after Pauline Johnson. She was one of her mother’s favorite poets so when her daughter was born she used Pauline as a second name.

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Tom – Interesting. My (scant) reading suggested that she was popular in her performing days, then fell off in literary esteem, and now has had a comeback of sorts. I think we studied (if such it may be called) some of her work in school. Or maybe I just found her poetry on my mother’s shelves.

  2. Jim Robertson says:

    Another excellent choice for National Treasure (But then they all have been !)

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