Solstice Reflections and a Creative Native

21 06 2007


By Jill Ettinger

The 40th Anniversary of the Summer of Love kicks off with today’s solstice.  I celebrated earlier this week at the Highline Ballroom performance by Native American folk legend, Buffy Sainte-Marie. Like most of my generation, I grew up watching the innovative learning program Sesame Street. Buffy (and later with son Dakota) played a pivotal role(s) on the show, exposing new sounds and educating on an important culture very much absent from my western Pennsylvania neighborhood. My father owned her records, and I remember being captivated by the cover of Fire, Fleet and Candlelight, which featured Buffy dressed in that beautiful orange and yellow traditional dress.

Western Pennsylvania, like most of this country, used to be home to many Native Americans. Though they were not evident in my white, upper-middle class neighborhood, there is no question that their ancestry pervaded my experiences. Buffy’s image, music and smile delivered a familiarity to a culture that we are only barely separated from. Imagine what it would be like if our neighbors lived in teepees; what a different world we’d be living in now if our ancestors had come to this country with respect. As we continue to engage in war, we lose sight of what brings us together.

What I find most unique about Buffy’s music is that it incorporates traditional Native elements and modern folk-pop. This no doubt the combination of her upbringing; a Canadian Cree tribe native, Buffy was adopted and raised state side, but always remained connected to her roots. She arrived on the music scene between beatniks and hippies with a unique sound and look. At a time when Dylan and Baez were singing four-hundred-year-old English folk songs, Buffy was writing and performing her own soon-to-be-classics, like “Until It’s Time for You To Go” and “Universal Soldier.”

Her politics wove into music in a way still timely, addressing issues  unique to Native Tribes while applicable to the world family. As her beaming smile filled the ballroom, she spoke of the atrocious uranium mining on reservations that are creating uninhabitable environments, disease and  death. She reminded us of the unjust case against Leonard Peltier being widely ignored. As the race for president heats up, it is really quite amazing that Native issues are so far down (if even at all) on the platforms. She addressed global issues like environmental havoc, blood-thirsty war lords, poverty, hunger and water shortages. I found myself wondering what it must be like to have started a career on these platforms over forty years ago, and find these topics morbidly enhanced.

When Buffy came onto the scene, our culture was embracing folk music. She won Billboard artist of the year and slews of other recognition that we now see rewarded to American Idol contestants and major label machine products. Now she plays to small crowds off the beaten path, while the latter fill Madison Square Garden. But we keep moving forward, sometimes with a litte help looking behind. Here’s the clip from Sesame Street of Buffy playing the mouth bow that had a profound impact on me about this big wide world filled with beautiful diversity.




2 responses

21 06 2007

So inspiring the way Buffy is completely committed to sharing and educating about her culture… especially the mouthbow. And after ALL OF THESE YEARS she still performs Cripple Creek on the mouthbow because she must know the kind of impact that particular song has on people. Kudos for finding this clip! I LOVE her she is my idol for life. Will send mp3’s of Changing Woman, one of the best records ever. BUFFY!

22 06 2007

took dad to see joe cocker last year for his birthday. on the drive home he told me about buffy saint marie. that he used to know her back in the day. he said he was madly in love with her.

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