Until age 60, he worked as longshoreman, logger and itinerant musician, and was chief of the Squamish Band of Burrard Inlet, BC, 1951-63. He was discovered in 1959 and acted a succession of roles as gentle Indigenous elder on Canadian television and stage, including CBC's Cariboo Country (1961) and the original production of George Ryga's The Ecstasy of Rita Joe (1967, publ 1970).

He recited his much-publicized "Lament for Confederation" on Indigenous defeat and resurgence at Vancouver's Canadian Centennial celebrations in 1967.

During his Hollywood career his roles included at least eight feature films, among which are Smith (1969), Little Big Man (1970), Harry and Tonto (1974) and The Outlaw Josey Wales (1975). A non-activist, George refused to endorse Indigenous political causes but insisted on portraying only "good" Indigenous figures.

He was author of My Heart Soars (1974) and My Spirit Soars (1982), both prose-poetry.