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Topic – Pauline Johnson

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Pauline Johnson

She called herself the Mohawk Princess and entertained people around the world. Today many people have forgotten Pauline Johnson. But, about 125 years ago, she was Canada’s most popular poet and entertainer.

Daughter of a Chief

Born in 1861 on the Six Nations Indian Reserve at Ohsweken, Ontario, Pauline was the daughter of a Mohawk chief and a non-Native mother. Even when she was a child, Pauline was already writing poetry.

Pauline’s family was wealthy and she grew up in a mansion. But her father died and she had to earn a living. Pauline began trying to sell her poetry but she was not very successful.

The Famous Poet

Then Pauline began to recite and perform her poetry in theatres. Audiences loved her. She called herself the Mohawk Princess, as well as Tekahionwake (say it like this: Dega-hee-YAWN-wagay), which means “double life” in Mohawk. Wearing a dress made of buckskin (deer skin), with two human scalps hanging from her waist, Pauline emphasized her Native background and fascinated people.

Pauline knew how to attract an audience and keep their attention with clever jokes and dramatic readings. Crowds bought her books and swarmed to see her, even though they were sometimes shocked when she demanded better treatment for Native people. It was not long before Pauline was travelling across Canada, the United States, and Britain, reciting her poetry and entertaining huge audiences.

In 1909, Pauline retired from touring and moved to Vancouver, British Columbia. She died there four years later. The beautiful, green Stanley Park was Pauline’s favourite place and she asked to be buried there. She is still the only person to have been granted permission to be buried in the park.

Pauline’s Accomplishments

One of the first Native poets to have her work published in Canada, Pauline was also one of the few women writers then who could make a living writing and performing. In the late 1800s, women in North America were expected to marry, raise a family, and keep quiet about how they felt. Not Pauline. She dared to do unexpected things.

Pauline was proud of her Native background, even though she lived in a time when many First Nations people were discriminated against. She wrote and spoke out about her culture and made people more aware of its proud heritage.

Fun Facts

  Pauline was mostly taught at home.

  When Pauline was growing up, her family often entertained high-class guests including princes, princesses, artists, and lords.

  Her first two poetry collections were published in London, England, and she toured there twice.

  Pauline wrote for newspapers and magazines, publishing short stories, poetry, travel texts, and texts about Native life.

  Pauline often signed her work with her two names—Pauline Johnson and Tekahionwake—which showed she was proud of both her heritages.

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