Chief Dan George delivered the following speech to 32,000 people celebrating Canada’s 100th birthday at Empire Stadium in Vancouver in 1967. The crowd expected a celebratory event, but instead Chief Dan George’s powerful performance called into question the meaning of Confederation and the impact of colonization on Indigenous people. At first, the audience was silent, but later gave Chief Dan George a standing ovation. The speech made national headlines the following day.
- Look up definitions for the words ‘lament’ and ‘Confederation.’
- Read the speech (below). Jot down your initial thoughts and reactions.
- Watch the CBC footage of the “Lament” (below).
- Was the performance of the ‘Lament’ what you had expected?
- What parts of the ‘Lament’ were powerful and memorable to you?
Discuss the ‘Lament for Confederation’ exploring the following questions:
- According to Chief Dan George, what were the challenges that Indigenous people in Canada faced in 1967?
- What were Chief Dan George’s hopes for the future of Indigenous people and Canada?
- Do you think that Chief Dan George took a risk in doing this performance? How might he and the other performers have felt that day?
- In what way was the reading of the ‘Lament for Confederation’ a meaningful event?
- What, if anything, does the ‘Lament for Confederation’ tell you about Chief Dan George’s historical significance?
Chief Dan George’s ‘Lament for Confederation’ (1967)
How long have I known you, Oh Canada? A hundred years? Yes, a hundred years. And many, many seelanum more. And today, when you celebrate your hundred years, Oh Canada, I am sad for all the Indian people throughout the land.
For I have known you when your forests were mine; when they gave me my meat and my clothing. I have known you in your streams and rivers where your fish flashed and danced in the sun, where the waters said ‘come, come and eat of my abundance.’ I have known you in the freedom of the winds. And my spirit, like the winds, once roamed your good lands.
But in the long hundred years since the white man came, I have seen my freedom disappear like the salmon going mysteriously out to sea. The white man’s strange customs, which I could 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 his way of life, I was called lazy. When I tried to rule my people, I was stripped of my authority.
My nation was ignored in your history textbooks — they were little more important in the history of Canada than the buffalo that ranged the plains. I was ridiculed in your plays and motion pictures, and when I drank your fire-water, I got drunk — very, very drunk. And I forgot.
Oh Canada, how can I celebrate with you this centenary, this hundred years? Shall I thank you for the reserves that are left to 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? For the lack of my will to fight back? No! I must forget what’s past and gone.
Oh God in heaven! Give me back the courage of the olden chiefs. Let me wrestle with my surroundings. Let me again, as in the days of old, dominate my environment. Let me humbly accept this new culture and through it rise up and go on.
Oh God! Like the thunderbird of old I shall rise again out of the sea; I shall grab the instruments of the white man’s success — his education, his skills, and with these new tools I shall build my race into the proudest segment of your society. Before I follow the great chiefs who have gone before us, Oh Canada, I shall see these things come to pass.
I shall see our young braves and our chiefs sitting in the houses of law and government, ruling and being ruled by the knowledge and freedoms of our great land. So shall we shatter the barriers of our isolation. So shall the next hundred years be the greatest in the proud history of our tribes and nations.
Photo: Chief Dan George drumming, Courtesy of the UBC Museum of Anthropology Archives, Vancouver, Canada – Anthony Carter fonds MOA a038336c141. Video: The Lament: CBC Archives, “Lament for Confederation” Chief Dan George 1967.
Video of the “Lament for Confederation”
The live performance of the July 1, 1967 speech was not recorded, but the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) filmed a studio version later that year. This was broadcast on The 7 O’Clock Show on November 27, 1967.