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Pauline Johnson, Mohawk Princess
Poet and Performer

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Emily Pauline Johnson was born to Mohawk Chief George Henry Martin Johnson, and Emily Howells from Bristol, England, on March 10, 1861, on the Six Nations Indian Reserve near Brantford, Ontario.  She was educated at Brantford Model School, and at a very young age she contributed verse to periodicals.  Encouraged from early childhood to read classic British novels and the works of Shakespeare, Pauline was given the gift of literature by her mother, while from her father she received a strong sense of pride in the culture of her First Nations Heritage. 

The below postage stamp honours the centennial of the birth of Emily Pauline Johnson, also known as The Mohawk Princess and Indian poetess, and whose Indian name was Tekahionwake.  

The stamp shows a profile of the late Miss Johnson, wearing a high ruffled collar of Victorian apparel superimposed on a background of forests, plains and mountains. 

In the background, a full-length likeness of Miss Johnson in tribal costume is shown to emphasize her two personalities of Indian princess and Victorian lady. In the foreground lower left corner, "1861", the year of her birth, appears on the pages of an open book representing her contribution to Canadian literature.

  • Canada 1961.  Emily Pauline Johnson.  Scott # 392.  

Canada 1961. Emily Pauline Johnson.

Although she was an accomplished poet by the time she reached her late teens, it wasn't until 1882 that Pauline -- or Tekahionwake in Indian -- as she was known, began to recite her poetry in public performances throughout Eastern Canada.  

Crown of her, young Vancouver; crest of her, old Quebec;
Atlantic and far Pacific sweeping her, keel to deck.
North of her, ice and arctics; southward a rival's stealth;
Aloft, her Empire's pennant; below, her nation's wealth.
Daughter of men and markets, bearing within her hold,
Appraised at highest value, cargoes of grain and gold.

Pauline Johnson. Self-portrait. Wood Cut.

Her show quickly gained a reputation, not only from the theme of her poetry, which at its core was about First Nations history and culture, but also for its dramatic quality that was enhanced by the way she was dressed on stage.  

In the first half of the show Pauline appeared on stage dressed in an evening gown, but in the second half she dressed in buckskin, rabbit pelts, metal jewelry, a hunting knife and a Huron scalp given to her by her great-grandfather. It was from this half of the presentation that she gained the nickname "Mohawk Princess". 

  • A woodcut of Pauline, based on a contemporary photograph of her. Scan "Lonely Planet -- Vancouver". See the original photograph here, and compare.  The link will open in a new window.

In 1895, Pauline fulfilled a long-standing dream to travel to England, and it was during this time that her first collection of poetry, "The White Wampum" as published.  She returned to Canada to continue touring, and her pieces, ranging from short stories to travel articles, were published in magazines and journals throughout North America. 

"Canadian Born", Pauline's second book was added to the world of Canadian writing in 1903; it was around this time that she began to scale back her touring due to poor health.  

Unable to retire in England as she had hoped, because of a lack of interest in her written work, Pauline moved to Vancouver in 1909.  "Legends of Vancouver", an interpretation of stories she had been told by Squamish Chief Joe Capilano, was published in 1911.  

Pauline loved Vancouver, particularly Stanley Park, where she spent much of her time writing and communing with nature.  

Although in the last years of her life Pauline suffered from breast cancer, she was still able to write three more books:  "Flint and Feather" (1912),  "The "Moccasin Maker"  (1913), and "The Shagganappi" (1913), the latter being published after her death.  

Pauline died on March 7, 1913, just three days before her 52nd birthday.  Throughout Canada memorial services were held in her honour and in Vancouver flags were kept at half mast on the day she was buried. In accordance with her wishes, her ashes were placed in Stanley Park, Vancouver. 

  • Photograph of some of the intricate totem poles in Stanley Park. Scan "Lonely Planet -- Vancouver". 

Note that the totem pole in the middle has a striking similarity with Pauline Johnson in tribal costume, as shown on the above postage stamp. 

Pauline Johnson. Totem Poles in Stanley Park, Vancouver, Canada.

Sources and links: 

Another female Canadian artist on this site: 

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