A Look Back: Buffy Sainte-Marie In Oklahoma

Dec 13, 2013

This week we re-visit an interview with Buffy Sainte-Marie, singer, songwriter, and a member of the Cree Nation.

Credit Buffy Sainte-Marie

In the 1960’s she, all alone, toured North America’s colleges, reservations and concert halls. She came after the beatniks and before the hippies. She was met with enthusiasm by audiences and record executives who were expecting an Indian princess in fringes but were instead entertained and educated by a dose of Native American reality in the flesh.  

Since those first concert tours, Buffy Sainte-Marie continued to grow her music as well as her life experience. A victim of political blacklisting, she also received many awards, including a Golden Globe and Academy Award for her song, “Up Where We Belong” from the film An Officer and A Gentleman.  She spent five years on Sesame Street, scored movies and raised a son.

She is one of those rare people that melds her passions with her art, politically and otherwise. She brought all that to the little stage at Andrews Park in Norman, Oklahoma last March to educate on the potential dangers of the KXL Pipeline running through the middle of the state of Oklahoma.

“I'm coming really because of the pipeline issue,” Sainte-Marie said. “Although I was born in Saskatchewan like a lot of aboriginal people in Canada, we are very very much aware of this issue.”

Canada is also where the grass roots movement Idle No More began. Sainte-Marie laughs a small laugh and says, “Idle No More was actually started in my home province of Saskatchewan by four women, three of them aboriginal.”

“And you know it’s a very very exciting movement because Idle No More is not some kind of an organization with a president and a vice president and a secretary and rules, no! It’s an acknowledgement that many many of us have been working year after year after year on environmental issues, and treaty issues, sovereignty issues” Sainte-Marie said.

Buffy is no stranger to vocalizing on what is important to her.

“I've been writing about these issues as a songwriter for a very long time. One of the first songs that I wrote having to do with protection of indigenous treaties was called "Now That The Buffalo Is Gone."

“It became very well known in the '60's. It was talking about the oldest treaty in the congressional archives which had been signed between the Seneca people and George Washington,” Sainte-Marie said.

“Even then we were protesting. There's a lot of good news though, part of the good news is that people are independently, on their own, with their own hearts and brains and experience, sticking up for treaties and of course, in this case, the environment,” Sainte-Marie said.

“Things have gotten better, I mean social networking has really really helped to organize what's going on in the case of Idle No More. People from everywhere are able to express their opinions, do it on their own timetables, flash mobs all across Canada and beyond the Canadian borders have helped to very peacefully, very well coordinated yet entirely spontaneously support the issues and educate people at the same times.”

When questioned if she thought that at her age, 72, she would still be in the fight, she quickly responded with, “Ohhh...I must correct you, it’s not a fight.”

“The answer to your question is yes, but it's not a fight. And I really, really have to correct people when they say ‘oh you're a warrior for peace.’ No, I'm not a warrior, I don't make war. Alternative conflict resolution I think is a much much better description of what it is I was doing then and what I'm still doing. And I'm not at all surprised that I'm still involved in non-violent struggle and trying to make the world better. And yet isn't it interesting that the language has changed, we didn't used to talk about fighting for peace.”

Saint-Marie was excited to bring her music to Oklahoma back in March. In her breathy smoky voice, “Ohhh, man I'm bringing my band to Norman.”

“In the 1960's and '70's under the Johnson and Nixon administrations, my music was not allowed to be heard in Indian areas. As a matter of fact, you know the blacklisting that happened with me and some other artists was pretty much nationwide in the U.S. But not in Canada, not in Europe, not in Asia and not Down Under,” Sainte-Marie said.

“So consequently I've only appeared a couple of times in the past 50 years in Oklahoma, where all the Indians are!”

“I'm not very well known in those areas. You know, the way that artists and outspoken people are kept out of an area is pretty sleazy. It’s not like the government comes down on you, it’s not like that,” Sainte-Marie said.

“A bunch of guys in the backrooms of political administrations make nasty phone calls and you are out of business. You are not going to appear in those areas. So it’s very exciting for me and for Oklahoma audiences to be able to get together on an issue that is vitally important.”

Currently, the Wanuskewin Heritage Park is exhibiting Sixteen Million Colours featuring eleven of Buffy Sainte-Marie’s works created with digital and photographic technology. Wanuskewin Heritage Park is located near the west bank of the South Saskatchewan River, just three kilometers north of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.


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