I first met Paul George at the Deli-icious Cafe in North
Vancouver. He was clearing tables as I sat drinking coffee and sketching
faces of various people sitting at other tables. His thin, wiry arms and
frail body strained to the limit as he toted a tub full of dirty dishes
from table to table and finally into the kitchen. He was always willing
to stop, and rest the heavy tub on the table of any patron interested
enough to exchange a few pleasantries with him – especially pretty
girls. Paul George loved pretty girls.
He intrigued me. His stamina appeared endless. But I was particularly
intrigued by his eyes – huge, black, spirited pools that were rimmed
by a watery grey halo, and set in a leathery face weathered by many hard
years, and lined by much laughter and many tears.
I had to draw that face!
In the narrative that follows, Paul George’s quotes are exactly
as he said them to me. I have not changed or omitted a single word. I
was saddened to hear that this gentle old man has since passed away –
though his spirit lives on in his words.
During my first interview with Paul, I asked him whether he prefers the
term 'Indian' or 'First Nations'. He chuckled. "I'm an old Indian.
You can call me that!" he said. So, at the risk of offending some,
but not Paul George, I respectfully use the term 'Indian' rather than
the politically correct 'First Nations', in telling his story.
(CLAUDE) PAUL GEORGE
by Keith F. Broad
His slight frame bends forward as he peers through the
living room window of his small home overlooking his beloved Burrard Inlet.
“From here you could just see two houses on top
of that hill there, and that was it.”
His gentle voice bubbles up from within a congested chest. The words hint
of an old Indian’s quiet resignation to the white man’s legions
of houses that infest Burnaby Heights and the pain of the loss of his
He blinks watery eyes, and focuses on Dollarton Highway just below his
“When the new highway went through to Squamish,
boy was there ever a mess down there – cars going off the road and
every darn thing!”
His gaze shifts again and settles on the sandy flats exposed by the Inlet’s
receding tidal waters. Pools of water, in a wasteland of dried kelp and
rippled sand, reflect immutable overcast skies.
“We use to dig clams out there. And mussels too.
We use to get a whole bunch and take them to the fishers on Campbell Avenue.
We got twenty cents a pound sometimes – but mostly it was five or
A child-like spirit creeps into his voice; his eyes glisten playfully.
“We picked up a bunch one time and brought them
home. My mother cooked them. Holy smokes they were good too! She was surprised
– she had never ate them before either.”
His voice returns to a bubbly whisper.
“That was 40, maybe 50 years ago.”
A little embarrassed at this uncharacteristic display of emotion, Paul
George turns from the window and eases himself onto a well-worn sofa.
Sharp points protruding at all angles within his loose plaid shirt and
faded blue jeans attest to the frailties of his sixty-seven year old frame.
Paul’s gaze continually drifts out the window, his heart and soul
never far from the steel-blue waters of the Burrard Inlet. A barge, belly
up and wallowing in an offshore swell, commands his attention; a gentle
smile of tolerance thinning his lips.
“I can tell you anything about the Burrard Indian
Reserve, and across the inlet there, and up there around Deep Cove and
Belcarra Park and all around in that area. That’s where we use to
hunt most of the time for ducks. I could tell you about this inlet, and,
that it’s one of the greatest things to me is this inlet. It is
Paul George, nephew of the famous Chief Dan George, grew up, raised a
family and continues to live in an area not much larger than Stanley Park.
In 1867 the Dominion of Canada was formed. Small tracts of land were apportioned
by the Crown for the exclusive use of the Indians. By 1869, an area of
111 acres had been assigned as the reserve for the Sleil-waututh people.
In 1916, a Royal Commission Report renamed the Sleil-waututh the Burrard
Inlet Band and allotted them Reserve Number 3, 275 acres of heavily timbered
waterfront land, 1 1/2 miles east of the Second Narrows Bridge, now called
The Ironworker’s Memorial Bridge, on the North Shore of Burrard
Paul George’s mother and father, brothers and sisters, along with
countless ancestors lay to rest only a stone throw from his home and within
sight of a very brief strip of sand that constitute the shores of the
“Me and my older brother and my younger sister
Gloria, when I was six or seven, down there on the beach, we were fooling
around with an axe one day and my brother cut her hand with it. She was
two years younger than me – just four or five. My brother and me,
we got real scared. She was bleeding and everything. There was nobody
to bring her in. Later on I found out she died. She bled to death ‘cause
nobody had a car to take her to the hospital.”
To the Indian way of life, close family ties are paramount.
This appears to be one of the significant fundamental differences between
the Indian’s social structure and that of the white’s. Generally,
for many white people, families and ancestors are spread far and wide,
not only across the country, but across the globe. Not so with Paul George.
His world is very small, very intimate, and very private.
Long before the first white people came to the Vancouver area, Paul’s
ancestors built their long-houses of wide cedar boards on the shores of
Indian Arm. The Sleil-waututh, People of the Inlet, part of the Coast
Salish Indians have hunted the forests and fished the waters of Indian
Arm and Indian River for unrecorded numbers of years. Belcarra was the
main fishing village of the Sleil-waututh tribe. Deep Cove and Roche Point
their favorite areas for gathering food. They were well sheltered and
the waters calm, and fish, clams, mussels and wild herbs were plentiful.
In the Burrard Inlet, salmon, halibut, perch, sole, herring and oolichan
were caught much the same way Paul did as a young man.
“We use to go up the top of Indian Arm to the
Indian River to fish and hunt up there sometimes – deer and black
bear. They’d be way back there. We use to catch all kinds of salmon,
chum, humpback or whatever they call them Cohos and Steelhead. We even
started to catch Spring Salmon up there.”
“They weren’t the real big ones –
they were small. I haven’t been up there for years though.”
In 1792, the first white men to explore the North Arm of Burrard Inlet,
now known as Indian Arm, and the first to make contact with the Sleil-waututh
Indians, were Captain Galiano and Captain Valdez of Spain, in their ships
the Sutil and the Mexicana. Verdant snow-peaked mountains guarded their
progress along uncharted miles of fresh water channel. Cool mountain air
may have inspired these Spanish explorers to name this place “Canal
de Sasamat” after the Indian word “Tsaatsmat”, meaning
“a cool place”.
“I stayed away from the Capilano River reserve
though. I didn’t like those guys up there. They use to come and
raid around here. They were traditional enemies of the Burrard, the Musqueum
and Vancouver Island Bands and all ‘round there. I never did like
what they use to do. Neither did my parents. It was traditional.”
Again his eyes are drawn to the window and beyond. Like the ebb and flow
of the currents beneath the waters of the Burrard Inlet, Paul George goes
with the flow of a constantly changing world.
“I just take it as it comes and goes. It’s
the same as anything else, you know. Can’t do much about it anyways.”
The Burrard Reserve’s Roman Catholic roots began during Chief James
Slaholt’s time, the first Chief of the then new Burrard Reserve.
The Oblate Fathers came from France to convert the Squamish Indians to
Christianity and all the natives on the Burrard Reserve became Roman Catholic.
In 1899, a boarding school was built near St. Paul’s Church on the
Mission Reserve. Sisters of the Child of Jesus were brought in to run
the school, and children of the Burrard Reserve were sent there.
“I went to school at Saint Paul’s Residential
School in North Vancouver, near the big church. I was nine. That was old
for starting school. My parents were more or less forced into sending
me there. I use to have a problem – I had bad kidneys and use to
wet the bed. I was made to walk through the girl’s yard with my
wet sheets on my head and hang them up there. I can laugh at it now, but
at that time it wasn’t funny. I use to behave myself – I was
a good boy. Besides, I was too scared and my hands are too soft! Lots
of guys use to get the strap. If they were doing something in school,
they’d get the strap and in the afternoon they’d run away.
Then, when they come back, they’d get the strap on the back end.
Some guys had tough hands. There was three guys I knew who use to go there
– put their hands out and ‘bang’, then put the other
out and ‘bang’. They never yelped out or nothing. Ten times
on each hand. Gee, tough hands! That strap was about four inches wide
and two feet long – a big chunk of leather! I liked to learn though.
There was quite a few good teachers actually.”
Children remained at the school from Monday to Friday and were allowed
home only on the weekends. But families were seldom together since the
Sisters only allowed the children to go home every other weekend, the
boys alternating with the girls.
“We use to come home every week-end. But after
they got more kids from the reserve to go there, they split us up. The
girls would come home on one Saturday, and the boys would come home on
the next Saturday. That way there wasn’t too many up here at the
Indian children were forbidden to speak their native language at Residential
A Salish elder, Henry Castle, recalled (interview, September 11, 1990)
the punishment he received for speaking Halkomelem, the language of the
Coast Salish People:
“When his classmates were caught speaking their
language one day at Coqualeetza school near Chilliwack they had their
mouths pried open and sewing needles driven through their tongues into
the bottom of their mouths.”
This type of treatment is corroborated in contemporary literature. (Haig-Brown
1988:11) In Celebration of Our Survival, Pg 152-3
“It was all right for the teachers and supervisors
to speak their language – they all spoke French, but they wouldn’t
let us speak our language. I spoke English from birth, so did my parents.
They went to residential schools too and were forced to speak English,
but before they died, they use to talk amongst themselves, you know, their
own language. It wasn’t their language actually – it was Squamish.
Our house was one level, but it was way off the ground. It had a big high
basement – but it wasn’t finished. Well, the whole thing wasn’t
finished actually. It was all wood, with wood shingles on the roof, and
we had a wood stove and most of the time the pipes weren’t any good.
In the summertime the roof would catch fire. The pipe from the wood stove
my mother use to cook on, it had holes in it, and the roof would just
start burning. We use to have to be outside most of the time watching
it. Then my brothers and sisters and me, we’d climb up on the roof
and put the fire out. The neighbors too, if they were around – they’d
come and help. That’d happen about ten times a week.”
As Paul George grew, so too did his world. The fishing,
longshoring and logging industries attracted many young Indian men. Work
was seasonal, out of doors and qualifications for employment not too restrictive.
“I was in my early twenties when I started working
at logging camps. One was Noble & Sons. That’s a logging camp
on Cowichan Lake. God, I hated that one! I didn’t like working in
the winter time. Geez – sometimes you had to go down in that deep
snow! They tried to keep the camps open ‘cause sometimes the summers
is not that long – and when it is long, it gets too long! It gets
too hot and then they got to shut down. It’s either too hot or too
cold, so mostly spring and fall weather is when they use to work real
lots. I’d work for about maybe two years, quit, and do something
else. I did that off and on for about twenty three years. Then I wanted
a pension. I use to drink too much and they canned me. They offered me
50 cents a week, so I said, ‘To hell with you guys!’ Actually,
I told them to shove it! There was quite a few workers that got killed
or mangled working in the mills – of course, you can expect that
from Hindus! They were careless – they’d never watch what
they were doing. You had to watch all the time in case they did something
stupid. It was liable to get you in trouble. I worked sometimes logging
in Port Renfrew, and we did that here too, at the other end of the reserve.”
By the 1920’s most of the virgin timber was logged out of the Burrard
Reserve, boomed, rafted out and sold to a logging broker. One of the most
notable participants of the early logging of the Burrard Reserve, was
young Dan George, Paul George’s uncle, later to become Chief Dan
George and Hollywood film star, known for his role as a Cheyenne chief
in “Little Big Man”.
“Dan and his wife Amy – after I grew up
and after I started playing music, and I got traveling with them, they
helped me any way I wanted, so that was good for me. It was just like
I was home all the time when I was with them. Dan was older than my father.
They were like my second parents.”
In the 1940’s, Paul and his brother Arthur (Art), joined their uncle
Dan George and Dan’s children, Bob, Leonard, Irene, and Marie in
a family musical band.
“Dan use to travel with his wife and his girls
most of the time. Bobby and I and Art use to travel together, so I spent
most of my time with Bobby and them and not with Dan – well, sometimes
the girls would come with us!”
With Paul playing mandolin and guitar, and Dan on the bass fiddle, The
band toured the Province playing pubs and local dance halls.
“We started to play quite a bit in Legion pubs.
They didn’t pay much but they were always good about it though –
if you asked for a bit more they would give you a little bit more.”
Elders of the Indian communities are generally expected to pass on their
ancestral traditions to younger generations, to teach the children their
heritage, their lore and legends. Many elders do, and many are almost
fanatic in their attempts to preserve the old ways of life, the old language
of their forefathers. This is true not only for Indians and their heritage,
but for many elders from many cultural and ethnic backgrounds. For Paul
George, an Elder of the Burrard Nation, this is not a major issue.
“I don’t think the kids worry too much about
their heritage, but if anybody asks me, I’ll tell them. I’ll
tell them what I know anyways. My father use to tell me some of the stories
after I got older. But I got to thinking he is just telling me these stories
because they sound good. He use to tell me all kinds of stories, like
the big sea serpent that stretched across the Inlet up here. Nobody could
go up or come down from it – and it was real. I don’t know.
It was possible, but they say in Squamish they had a sea serpent. They
claimed it was originally from up there, but it was from down here. It
just went up over the mountains. Someone went up and crawled up on the
sea serpent and stuck a spear up near where the heart was suppose to be.
Then he kept on going until he got up to the head part. That’s when
it took off, and went up over the mountain, and for years that place was
just nothing but rock. All the bushes had died when it went over, but
it’s all grown over again now. So it is up there. I think it is.”
Paul’s voice tires. His breath rattles deep within
his chest. His long thin body sinks deeper into the worn sofa as flaccid
eyelids draw slowly over large black eyes. His seemingly endless stamina
flows out and into the world around him, and into the steel blue waters
of his beloved Burrard Inlet.
“Our ways won’t get lost with me, anyways.”
he breathes, “All you gotta do is ask, and I’ll tell ya. I’ll
tell ya what I know anyways.”
Paul George, 1994, Mark George, 1995, Stan Joseph and
Debbie Sparrow will appear in a book entitled, ORIGINAL PEOPLE, Six Coast
Salish Portraits, Volume 1, sometime in the future. Volume I, is the first
in a series of unique books that attempts to give the reader a sense of
how mainstream First Nations people feel about their past, present and
future lives, and how they feel about current Native issues. The people
in this book tell of their lives, thoughts feelings and opinions in a
close-up and personal way for all to see and understand.
The six Original People are neither famous nor politically active. However
their lives are important; their experiences are unique; their feelings
and emotions varied. These things are clearly inscribed on their faces.
Emotions, hardships and happy times shine in their eyes, wrinkle their
brow and turn the corners of their mouth up – or down.