When we think about great Canadians, often we neglect to recognize the incredible accomplishments and contributions of Indigenous Canadians in our nation’s history. One such man whose legacy has been immortalized by his craft, is Gordon Tootoosis. He is a well-known film and television actor, who has brought characters of Aboriginal people to the homes of millions worldwide. His noteworthy accomplishments include Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, North of 60, and more recently Blackstone. Often the characters he portrayed, and how he gave them life on screen was different from the “Hollywood Indians” in films prior. He made the depiction of the Indian to be humanized, relatable, and with much less stereotyping and tokenizing. In essence, he developed the representation of First Nations people in mainstream media. This is a kind of activism that is creative and profoundly effective, as relationships between Indigenous peoples and settler communities had been strained from miscommunication and colonial misrepresentation.
Tootoosis is a Cree man from Saskatchewan, born on the Poundmaker reserve in 1941. He and his other siblings attended a residential school that prohibited them all from speaking their Cree tongue and practicing their cultural traditions. His experiences in the schools inspired him to become a Social Worker, specializing his work with children and young offenders. He was successful in reclaiming the traditional dance of his culture and was an active in the powwow circuit. Because of his work, he was awarded the Order of Canada in 2004. He was a strong activist and voice for his people, and will be remembered forever. Gordon Tootoosis passed away July 5, 2011 in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.