Born and raised on Six Nations Reserve near Brantford, Ontario, poet and performer Emily Pauline Johnson was the daughter of a Mohawk chief and his English wife. She was educated mainly at home, studying both English literature and Mohawk oral history and legend.

After her father’s death in 1884, Johnson began writing to help support her family. She published several poems in journals, which she signed as both “E. Pauline Johnson” and her adopted name, “Tekahionwake.”

In 1892 she was invited to give a poetry reading for the Young Men’s Liberal Club of Toronto. Based on the success of that reading, she began a series of performances across Canada. Johnson developed a dual persona for her performances, wearing the costume of a Native princess for the first half and an English drawing-room gown for the second. She toured widely for 17 years, gaining international recognition with primarily non-Native audiences.

Johnson’s poetry often uses the tone and structure of English poetry to convey Native legends and beliefs, with a dramatic intensity well-matched to the stage. Her first collection of poetry, The White Wampum (1895), includes both poems and tales. Two more collections of poetry followed, as well as three fiction collections.

Poor health caused Johnson to retire from touring, and she settled in Vancouver in 1909. She died of breast cancer in 1913, and her ashes were buried in Vancouver’s Stanley Park.

Poems by Emily Pauline Johnson
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