Tsleil-Waututh elder, former chief, actor, environmentalist, and economic leader Leonard George dies

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      One of Canada's most respected, multitalented, and influential Indigenous leaders has passed away.

      Leonard George was chief of the Tsleil-Waututh Nation on the North Shore from 1989 to 2001.

      Born in 1946, he founded the Vancouver Aboriginal Centre and was on its executive for eight years in the 1980s.

      The youngest son of actor Chief Dan George, Leonard George also had a distinguished career in cinema. He acted in such films Little Big Man, Smoke SignalsWhite Fang, McCabe and Mrs. Miller, and Shadow of the Hawk.

      George remained married to his wife Susan for over 40 years and had five children and numerous grandchildren. Many George family members, including his nephew Rueben, are leaders in the fight against the Kinder Morgan pipeline.

      In the book Architects of Peace, George declared his passion for the natural world in this quote: "Our Mother the Earth is suffering. We have people with the vision and understanding who care. Their wish is to save wildlife and ecosystems. But we fail to realize that the first step in healing is within ourselves. We must face the worst in ourselves in order to be our best. We have to shed the tears of oppression and learn to love, honor, and respect ourselves."

      He was a spokesperson for the Jane Goodall Society and an adviser to the United Nations.

      George also had a quick wit and an easy laugh, which made him an in-demand speaker at conferences.

      Over the course of his life, he won many honours, including a citizen award from the District of North Vancouver.

      As chief, George spearheaded the creation of Takaya Developments, which led to the creation of more than 800 condominiums in the Raven Woods community.

      In addition, he launched Takaya Tours, which was one of the early entrants in B.C.'s increasingly vibrant Indigenous tourism sector.

      George served as president of the First Nations Employment Centre and was involved in numerous health and education initiatives. This included appearing before Vancouver city council to win zoning approval for the Chief Dan George Education Centre in downtown Vancouver in conjunction with Simon Fraser University.

      One of his sons, former Tsleil-Waututh chief Justin George, told the Vancouver Sun in 2012 that his father said the small nation of 500 members must become "modern-day hunters through education".

      It's this kind of thinking that has spurred the Indigenous comeback that's so apparent across British Columbia following the ravages of cultural genocide during the residential-school era.

      He talked openly during his life about his struggle with alcohol as a young man. He remained clean and sober for 40 years.

      In 2005, George was diagnosed with throat cancer.

      In an essay on CBC Radio in 2007, he revealed that one of his children, Qut-same, died from sudden infant death syndrome at six months of age. He also said that another son, Isaac, was two-spirited and had HIV/AIDS.

      "Susan put her own health challenges aside and nursed us both through the harsh treatments, tests, medicines and hospital stays," George said. "For me, it was a good, warm healing process. For Isaac, it was his last days on Earth. In the end, with Susan on Isaac's right and me on his left, surrounded by his brothers and his sisters, friends, nieces, nephews, we sent him to our ancestors in the Spirit world while singing and drumming a spiritual song."

      He said that his experience with cancer convinced him of his own mortality.

      "Thank God I had cancer," George declared. "It caused me to stay at home and experience the Spirit inside myself through the love of my family and the courage and beauty of Isaac."

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