Indigenous Women: Nations, Cultures, Voices

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Cree Musician Buffy Sainte-Marie Inspires!

b2ap3_thumbnail_Bimages.jpgAn antidote to the frustrations of current politics, environmental degradation, and the struggles in our own individual and collective human lives--that can include sheer exhaustion from fighting and emotionally processing these forms of oppression--is music. Singing, and especially dancing, uplifts the human spirit and renews us in ways that few other experiences can. When songs are specifically written to address the very struggles we are engaged in, and remind us that we struggle together toward similar goals of social equity, global community and peace, and economic stability for all, it can downright uplift our resolve to get back in the fight, our vigor shining!

b2ap3_thumbnail_BuffySainte-Marie.jpgThis is what Indigenous-Canadian of the Cree nation, Buffy Sainte-Marie, has been doing for the past 50 years! St. Marie became well-known for her activist peace song "Universal Soldier" in 1964 and was a headline act at many national venues in the 1960s. Her song, “Until It’s Time For You Go” has been covered widely, including by such greats as Elvis Presley, Cher, Roberta Flack and Glen Campbell.  She had a million-selling theme song from the western, Soldier Blue, and in 1982, she won an Academy Award, a Golden Globe Award, and a British Academy Film Award for Best Original Song for the theme song from the film An Officer And a Gentlemen, called “Up Where We Belong” that was sung by Joe Cocker and Jennifer Warnes. St. Marie also had a stint on Sesame Street in the 1970s and she continued appearing on that iconic American children's show into the 1980s. In 2015, she won a prestigious Polaris Music Prize for Album of the Year for Power in the Blood.

b2ap3_thumbnail_Buffy_Sainte-Marie_1970.JPGAs a musician and activist, St. Marie was blacklisted in the United States in the 1970s, which damaged her career in America. Nevertheless, she did not let attacks from U.S. Presidents Johnson and Nixon, or FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, stop her from continuing to write and perform her protest music around the world. The irrepressible Buffy Sainte-Marie kept on keepin' on however, doing what she was born to do and soaring on the creative spirit. In the 1980s, major national awards for her music starting flowing in, thus solidifying her name in the starry firmament of protest musicians who keep the vision alive for current and rising generations.

Today, St. Marie still lives in Hawaii where she originally fled decades ago for privacy, and she has recently released a new collection of protest songs in an album called Medicine Songs. Her newest album will provide inspiration for all of us who are working, crafting, and envisioning a better world for everyone. With a Cree Indian woman's beautiful voice and vision providing guidance and hope, the songs also signal the wisdom of a people with ancient roots that already knew human life without systemic oppression. b2ap3_thumbnail_buffy-1.jpg

Sainte-Marie writes about her new album that was released in November 2017:

"I’ve found that a song can be more effective than a 400-page textbook. It’s immediate and replicable, portable and efficient, easy to understand – and sometimes you can dance to it. Effective songs are shared, person-to-person, by artists and friends, as opposed to news stories that are marketed by the fellas who may own the town, the media, the company store and the mine. I hope you use these songs, share them, and that they inspire change and your own voice."

Buffy Sainte-Marie has been a leader in Indigenous communities for decades in ways that go far beyond her musical talent. Especially inspiring is her Cradleboard Teaching Project and philanthropic educational foundations that aid Native American and Native Canadian children. But St. Marie is a role model for artists and activists of all identities! Here is a link to her website:

Lyrics below are from St. Marie's award-winning song "Up Where We Belong"--where all of us can find refuge while doing the important work, acts both great and small, in our communities, our individual lives, and the world:


b2ap3_thumbnail_Eagle-Soaring-Wallpaper.jpgLove lift us up where we belong
Where the eagles cry
On a mountain high
Love lift us up where we belong
Far from the world below
Up where the clear winds blow
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Dr. Mays is a professional writer with a doctoral degree in Native American Studies who has taught at the college level for nearly two decades. She is committed to educating about Indigenous cultures, especially about practices that specifically relate to women, in order to raise awareness about current issues in Indian Country, dissolve stereotypes, and create healing among all communities.


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