An Oral History Interview with Buffy Sainte-Marie
“You can travel all alone, or you can come with me” – Buffy Sainte-Marie
By Sofia Samper and Jessica Sigurdson
Before we met Buffy Sainte-Marie in June of this year to conduct an oral history interview for one of our Museum’s exhibits, we weren’t sure what to expect. We weren’t too familiar with her music since it was most popular before our generation. Once we began our research in preparation of the interview, we listened to some of her music and we were intrigued. Little did we know that Buffy was one of the first artists to experiment with techno music, was the first Canadian Aboriginal Academy Award winner, a visual artist, and an activist through her art. Her most famous hits include: “Universal Soldier”, “My Country ‘Tis of Thy People, They’re Dying” and “Now that the Buffalo’s Gone.” We especially enjoyed the song “Qu’appelle Valley Saskatchewan” from 1976.
Buffy possesses radiant energy, yet the wisdom of her years is apparent.Buffy is radiant and inspiring. Photo credit: Jessica Sigurdson/CMHR.
Buffy rose to fame in the era of civil rights and folk singers of the 60’s and 70’s. Some of her contemporaties were Joan Baez, Joni Mitchell, and Bob Dylan. But she didn’t move in their circles; she had her own goals. While touring for her musical career, she often connected with Aboriginal communities and took part in rallies and demonstrations.
Originally Cree from Saskatchewan, Buffy was adopted by an American family and grew up in New England where her creativity was fostered. She blossomed into a true performer during her college years in Greenwich Village, New York City. She was influential in supporting indigenous rights movements in Canada and the United States.
She has spent much of her career nurturing educational programs that have made a real difference in people’s lives - and continue to do so to this day. She’s also been in films, a medium which has allowed her to help educate the general public about aboriginal identity, a cause she holds dear. She’s even appeared on Sesame Street!
Buffy on Sesame Street 1970-1980:
There was never a dull moment during Buffy’s oral history interview. She was candid, insightful, and very inspiring. She talked about music as a tool for change. As opposed to a thick textbook, many people will pay attention to a good song. Through her politically-driven lyrics, Buffy inspired and taught many people about human rights.
She also spoke to us about her personal experiences as an Aboriginal woman in show business and the difficulties she’s faced. For example, when makeup artists put makeup on her and her band, they try to make their faces look Caucasian. For this reason, she prefers to do her own make-up. She encourages other Aboriginal women in show business to do the same: embrace your natural features rather than mask them.
Through the oral history project- one of our favourite aspects of working at the Museum- we interview people from across Canada and around the world so we can document their experiences with human rights. Buffy’s knowledge and experience is a story the Canadian Museum for Human Rights is lucky to have and to share. To this day, Buffy isn’t afraid to speak out on global injustices. You can learn more about her story and contributions to human rights by visiting us once the Museum opens.