Actor Gordon Tootoosis dies

Celebrated actor Gordon Tootoosis has died, a family member has confirmed to CBC News.
Gov. Gen. Adrienne Clarkson invests actor Gordon Tootoosis of Cut Knife, Sask., into the Order of Canada in 2004. (Fred Chartrand/Canadian Press)

Celebrated actor Gordon Tootoosis has died, a family member has confirmed to CBC News.

The cause of death was not immediately available but he was recently hospitalized for treatment of pneumonia. Tootoosis was 69.

He was born on the Poundmaker reserve in rural Saskatchewan.

In addition to his film, television and theatre work, Tootoosis was active in First Nations politics.

He was made a member of the Order of Canada in 2004 for his achievements as "an inspirational role model for aboriginal youth."

Tantoo Cardinal, a friend and actor who had performed with him, said the loss is being felt throughout the acting world.

"He really believed the theatre to be a vital and necessary healing force," Cardinal told CBC News.

"He had great respect for his traditions, great respect, and he carried that with him. You know, some people have a sense of soul and spirit as kind of being separate, but Gordon, he breathed these things."

Early struggles

Tootoosis was taken from his home as a youngster and placed in the Indian Residential School system. Like many in the system, Tootoosis endured harsh treatment at the school.

As an adult, he became a social worker and was a band chief for a time.

Tootoosis broke into acting in 1972 with the movie Alien Thunder. He went on to be featured in dozens of films and television series, including North of 60, Legends of the Fall and Crazy Horse.

His most recent project saw him starring in the play Gordon Winter, a production that toured the country this spring.

Ken Williams wrote the play and toured with Tootoosis.

"The big thing is the doors he opened for First Nations actors," Williams told CBC News Tuesday, describing Tootoosis as a man of great generosity.

"He was breaking a trail that many of us will follow. And it's going to be big shoes to fill."

A funeral was set for Friday morning at the Poundmaker Veterans Hall on the Poundmaker Cree First Nation, about 170 kilometres northwest of Saskatoon.