Emily Pauline Johnson (Tekahionwake)

Emily Pauline Johnson (Tekahionwake)

Documents in the LAC Collection that trace her life and times.
Born: March 10, 1861

Died: March 7, 1913  
Vancouver, British Columbia

Great-grandfather:     Tekahionwake (Jacob Johnson)

Grandfather:    Chief Sakayengwaraton (John “Smoke” Johnson)

Grandmother:    Helen (Nellie) Martin

Father:    Onwanonsyshon (George Henry Martin Johnson)
Mother:    Emily Susanna Howells


Emily Pauline Johnson was the youngest of four children born to an Englishwoman, named Emily Susanna Howells, and Mohawk Chief Teyonhehkon, a descendant of Hiawatha and Dekanahwideh, the Peacemaker, and other leaders Pontiac and Tecumseh.

Pauline’s family blended and reflected two distinct cultural heritages: one being the customs, traditions, myths, legends and historical accounts of her Mohawk heritage from the Wolf, Bear and Turtle clans, and the other being her mother’s British background.  


The Mohawk were one of six nations represented in the Iroquois Confederacy, governed by a Great Law of Peace and consisting of 50 sachems (chiefs of the ruling council within a Confederacy) chosen by the matriarchs of the Iroquoian societies. Members of these societies refer to themselves as the Haudenosaunee, meaning “People of the Longhouse.” They are linked together by shared languages, cultural heritages and histories. As a member of the League of Six Nations, the Mohawk are known as the Keepers of the Eastern Door and were regarded as leaders of the Confederacy by British Superintendent of Indian Affairs Sir William Johnson.
Chief Tekahionwake, Pauline’s great-grandfather, was the first to be given the English name, Johnson (after Sir William Johnson) at birth. In turn, Sir William Johnson was given the Mohawk name, Waraghiyagey.
Pauline was born at “Chiefswood,” a home her father built for his wife on the reserve land of the Six Nations of the Grand River, a region of forest that stretched from the Great Lakes northward.
A number of distinguished guests came to Chiefswood, such as Princess Louise, Prince Arthur and Lord Dufferin, on their visits to Canada. Other esteemed visitors included members of the Six Nations such as Thayendanegea (Joseph Brant) and his sister Koñwatsi'tsiaiéñni (Molly Brant), the second wife of Sir William Johnson. Gonwatsijayenni was a Mohawk clan mother, matriarch and loyalist who had much power in the dealings of the Confederacy. 



Pauline’s grandfather, Sakayengwaraton, fights alongside Joseph Brant and General Sir Isaac Brock in the revolutionary wars. He was a great warrior, accomplished orator, storyteller and interpreter.
Sakayengwaraton marries the adopted daughter, Helen (Nellie) Martin, of hereditary Chief Teyonnhehkewea who belongs to one of the 50 sachems of the Iroquois Confederacy. The couple has six children, one of which is Pauline’s father, Onwanonsyshon.

Early 1850s

Onwanonsyshon marries Emily Susanna Howells and they settle at Chiefswood. Like his father, he is an interpreter for the Canadian government, an elected Teyonhehkon, and one of 50 chiefs of the Iroquois Confederacy, a chieftainship descended matrilineally.


Birth of Emily Pauline Johnson


After being tutored at home in the early years, Pauline attends Brantford Collegiate Institute. She appears in several plays in Brantford as a member of the Brant Amateurs. Following graduation, Pauline returns to her parents’ home.


Pauline’s father, Chief Teyonhehkon, dies. Mrs. Johnson and her daughters leave Chiefswood and move into rented quarters in Brantford, Ontario.
Between 1884 and 1886 Pauline succeeds in publishing four poems in Gems of Poetry, New York, and eight poems in the Week, Toronto.


Pauline is commissioned to write a poem “Ode to Brant” to mark the unveiling of the monument honouring Joseph Brant after the American Revolutionary War. A day after the reading, Pauline is interviewed by Garth Grafton of The Globe, Toronto.
As Pauline’s reputation grows from writing for magazines and newspapers, to publishing poetry, prose and short stories, to a performing, she begins to sign her work as both E. Pauline Johnson and Tekahionwake, the name of her great-grandfather, emphasizing her Mohawk identity and creating the “Indian princess” persona.


Two of Pauline’s poems are first published in Songs of the Great Dominion by W.D. Lighthall, Editor.


Pauline performs her poems “A Cry from an Indian Wife” and “As Red Men Die” at Frank Yeigh’s Canadian Literature Evening in Toronto. This begins her touring as a performance artist.


For the next 17 years, Pauline tours across Canada, Great Britain and the United States reciting her works. She captures the imaginations of her audiences, Canadians, Americans and British, in sold-out shows. During her tour of the Canadian west, Pauline meets suffragist and politician Nellie L. McClung in Manitoba.
Pauline’s works include: The White Wampum, London, 1895; Canadian Born, Toronto, 1903.  She is published in Boys World, 1906; Mothers Magazine 1907; “When George Was King” by the Brockville Times, 1908. Her articles on Native legends appear in the Vancouver Province in 1910, followed by the publications Legends of Vancouver, 1911 and Flint and Feather, Toronto, 1912.


Pauline’s mother Emily Susanna Howells dies, resulting in the loss of the Brantford family home.


Pauline’s performing partnership with Walter McRaye begins. It lasts until 1909.


Pauline visits London, England for the second time. She meets Squamish Chief Su-a-pu-luck (Joseph Capilano) and his delegation who were there to voice their protest against Edward VII’s hunting and fishing restrictions imposed on the First Nations of the British Columbia coast.


Pauline moves her home base from Winnipeg to Vancouver and gives up regular performances to concentrate on writing; she is diagnosed with breast cancer shortly after.


Pauline dies of breast cancer on March 7. At her request, she is buried in Vancouver’s Stanley Park within sight of Siwash Rock.


A monument to Pauline Johnson is erected in Stanley Park, Vancouver, British Columbia.


Publications and Re-prints

After her death, the following publications about Pauline’s life and work appear, including some reprints:
  • The Shagganappi and The Moccasin Maker, 1913
  • Town Hall Tonight by Walter McRaye, 1929
  • The Mohawk Princess: Being Some Account of the Life of Tekahion-Wake (E. Pauline Johnson) by Mrs. W. Garland Foster, 1931
  • Pauline Johnson and Her Friends, 1946
  • Pauline Johnson, Her Life and Work, by Marcus Van Steen, 1965
  • Pauline: A Biography of Pauline Johnson by Betty Keller, 1981
  • Pale as Real Ladies: Poems for Pauline Johnson by Joan Crate, 1989
  • Buckskin & Broadcloth: A Celebration of E. Pauline Johnson–Tekahionwake 1861–1913, by Sheila Johnston, 1997
  • Paddling Her Own Canoe, The Times and Texts of E. Pauline Johnson Tekahionwake by Veronica Strong-Boag and Carole Gerson, Editors, 2000
  • Flint & Feather: The life and times of E. Pauline Johnson, Tekahionwake by Charlotte Gray, 2002
  • Flint and Feather: Collected Verse by E. Pauline Johnson, by R.P. Frye and Company, 2011
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