Tekahionwake

Cedars

“Do you think you help us by bidding us forget our blood? By teaching us to cast off all memory of our high ideals and our glorious past? I am an Indian. My pen and my life I devote to the memory of my own people. Forget that I was Pauline Johnson, but remember always that I was Tekahionwake, the Mohawk that humbly aspired to be the saga singer of her people, the bard of the noblest folk the world has ever seen, the sad historian of her own heroic race. ”

Tekahionwake, Mohawk First Nation

First and foremost, she was Tekahionwake (dageh-eeon-wageh) of the Mohawk First Nation.   In English, her name meant double-life.  The name alone foreshadowed a woman who would traverse, with style and easy elegance, two vastly dissimilar worlds.   A woman destined to bridge two nations.

Her father, George H.M. Johnson, was a Mohawk Chief of the Six Nations.  Her mother, Emily Howells, was born in Bristol, England, before moving with her family to the United States to help with the Underground Railway that transported slaves into Canada.  Fate intervened. Emily moved to the Canada to live with her sister Eliza, who was married to an Anglican missionary.  A chance meeting with George led to a secret five year engagement where their love letters were kept safe in a hollow tree.  Families on both sides were vocal in their opposition to a “mixed” marriage.  Their indignation only cemented the relationship.  The marriage took place.

On March 10, 1861 Tekahionwake was born near Brantford, Ontario, the youngest of four children, a child of two ancestries.

“Never let anyone call me a white woman.  There are those who think they pay me a compliment in saying that I am just like a white woman.  My aim, my joy, my pride is to sing the glories of my own people.”
Tekahionwake, Mohawk First Nation

8 thoughts on “Tekahionwake

  1. Pauline/Tekahionwake–a combination that really matters! She was a talented, gifted lady who lived far beyond her own time. What a love story! Love letters hidden in tress. A story that fiction really can not duplicate. I am proud that you have a First Nations lady in your ancestry.

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  2. Thank you so much for this bit of history, Rebecca. I’ve always been intrigued by stories (fiction and non-fiction) of Indians and whites meeting and marrying. Love surmounts all obstacles.

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