Buffy Sainte-Marie is one of Canada’s greatest musical legends, and she is also an incredible advocate for the indigenous people of the Americas. She’s a super neat lady!
Buffy was born in 1941 on the Piapot Plains Cree First Nation Reserve in Qu’Appelle Valley in Saskatchewan. She grew up in Massachusetts after being adopted by an American couple. She went on to college at University of Massachusetts Amherst and graduated in the top ten of her class with degrees in teaching and Oriental philosophy. As a child, she taught herself to play the piano and guitar, and began writing songs in college. She wrote in multiple languages including Hindi. Needless to say, she was a VERY SMART gal.
After college, she toured and played at concert halls, festivals, and coffeehouses. She was part of the early 1960s folk scene in Greenwich Village, and played alongside other folk legends such as Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, and Leonard Cohen. In 1963 she experienced a throat infection so severe that she became addicted to codeine. The experience prompted her song “Cod’ine” which has been covered by almost everyone under the sun it seems like.
That same year she wrote her famous song of protest “Universal Soldier” after witnessing wounded soldiers returning from Vietnam. In 1964, she released her first album, It’s My Way. Her later albums included songs addressing the mistreatment and ongoing injustices facing Native Americans which caused significant controversy at the time. She appeared on numerous TV shows throughout the 60s, released several more albums, and performed around the world.
Just look at that hair!! So glorious. In 1964, she was welcomed and adopted by members of the Piapot Cree which gave her a more solid sense of belonging in her native culture. In 1968, she married Dewain Bugbee, but they divorced in 1971. Shit happens.
In 1975, she was asked to appear as a guest on Sesame Street. She initially declined the offer, but soon realized that it was an opportunity for her to show children that “Indians still exist.” She appeared numerous times over a five-year period and she even breastfed her son (from her second marriage) during a 1977 episode. This is believed to be the first time that breastfeeding was aired on television.
Sesame Street even traveled to Hawaii to film a week of shows in her home in 1978. In 1979, she scored the film Spirit of the Wind which featured Native American actors in all of the parts except for one.
Buffy was also an early adopter of computers, and began recording her music with them in the early 1980s. She co-wrote “Up Where We Belong” for An Officer and a Gentleman (*swoons*) and received an Academy Award for Best Song in 1982. Her songs were used in TV shows and films, and she eventually went on to act in several roles. So, basically, she just did everything. She married again in 1982 to Jack Nitzche with whom she wrote “Up Where We Belong,” and they were together until his death in 2000.
Buffy released a new album in 1992 which focused largely on the continued plight of the Native American population. She also exhibited art in galleries across North America. In 1996, she founded the Nihewan Foundation for American Indian Education to improve educational participation among Native American youth. She also started the Cradleboard Teaching Program to develop curriculum focused on raising self-esteem and self-identity among current and future generations of Native Americans by providing enriching and accurate information about their people and culture. She had projects in nine indigenous communities and across eleven states. She partnered the indigenous students with non-native elementary, middle, and high schools to produce cross-cultural curriculum.
In 2002, she sang at the Kennedy Space Center for the first Native American astronaut, Commander John Herrington. She was named as the spokesperson for the UNESCO Associated Schools Project Network in Canada in 2003. The network aims to educate students on issues related to UNESCO’s “overarching goal of promoting peace and international understanding.” She has continued releasing new music, and A Tribe Called Red released an electronic remix of “Working for the Government” in 2015.
Buffy has an Academy Award, a Golden Globe Award, a BAFTA Award, has been inducted into Canadian Music Hall of Fame, has received numerous Juno Awards, and has been honored with at least 13 honorary doctorates from universities and institutes. She is now 77 years and has not slowed down. Buffy is awesome.
“Buffy Sainte-Marie: 75 things you need to know about the Canadian icon”
“Buffy Sainte-Marie: ‘I constantly ask myself. Where are the great protest songs of today? Are people deaf and blind?‘”
“HUMANITARIAN AWARD (FORMALLY ALLAN WATERS HUMANITARIAN AWARD) 2017“
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