Emily Pauline Johnson (also known in Mohawk as Tekahionwake –pronounced: dageh-eeon-wageh, literally: 'double-life'), commonly known as E. Pauline Johnson or just Pauline Johnson, was a Canadian writer and performer popular in the late 19th century. Johnson was notable for her poems and performances that celebrated her First Nations heritage; her father was a Mohawk chief of mixed ancestry, and her mother an English immigrant. One such poem is the frequently anthologized "The Song My Paddle Sings".
Her poetry was published in Canada, the United States and Great Britain. Johnson was one of a generation of widely read writers who began to define a Canadian literature. While her literary reputation declined after her death, since the later 20th century, there has been renewed interest in her life and works.Pauline Johnson was born at Chiefswood, the family home built by her father in 1856 on the Six Nations Indian Reserve outside Brantford, Ontario. She was the youngest of four children of Emily Susanna Howells Johnson (1824–1898), a native of England, and George Henry Martin Johnson (1816–1884), a Mohawk chief whose mother was half European. Howells had immigrated to the United States in 1832 as a young child with her father, stepmother and siblings. Howells met Johnson while living with her older sister on the reserve, where her brother-in-law was an Anglican missionary.
Although Emily and George Johnson's marriage had been opposed by both their families, and they were concerned that their mixed-race family would not be socially accepted, they were acknowledged as a leading Canadian family (Gray 2002, p. 61). The Johnsons enjoyed a high standard of living, and their family and home were well known. Chiefswood was visited by such intellectual and political guests as the inventor Alexander Graham Bell, painter Homer Watson, noted anthropologist Horatio Hale, and Lady and Lord Dufferin, Governor General of Canada.
Emily and George Johnson encouraged their four children to respect and learn about both the Mohawk and the English aspects of their heritage. Because the children were born to a Native father, by British law they were legally considered Mohawk and wards of the British Crown. Because their mother was not Mohawk, they were excluded from aspects of the tribe's matrilineal culture. Their paternal grandfather John Smoke Johnson, who had been elected a Pine Tree Chief, was an authority in the lives of his grandchildren. He told them many stories in the Mohawk language, which they comprehended but did not speak fluently.Pauline Johnson said that she inherited her talent for elocution from her grandfather. Late in life, she expressed regret for not learning more of his Mohawk heritage.
A sickly child, Johnson did not attend Brantford's Mohawk Institute. It was established in 1834 as one of Canada's first residential schools for Native children. Her education was mostly at home and informal, derived from her mother, a series of non-Native governesses, a few years at the small school on the reserve, and self-directed reading in the family's expansive library. She became familiar with literary works by Byron, Tennyson, Keats, Browning, and Milton. She enjoyed reading tales about Native peoples, such as Longfellow's epic poem The Song of Hiawatha and John Richardson's Wacousta. At age 14, Johnson went to Brantford Central Collegiate with her brother Allen, and she graduated in 1877. A schoolmate was Sara Jeannette Duncan, who developed her own journalistic and literary career.
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