Warrior Woman…Buffy Sainte Marie: A Multimedia Life

Posted By PowWows.com June 10th, 2015 Last Updated on: June 23rd, 2015

Dynamic Documentary!

Dynamic Documentary!

Review by Dawn Karima, Native American Culture Editor

“I sometimes get funny reactions…for being a woman, for being original and for being original,” Buffy Sainte Marie declares, “For a long time I’ve been a multimedia person.” Cinefocus-Pacquin honors the life and career of a true musical luminary in Buffy Sainte-Marie: A Multimedia Life. During this Documentary by Joan Prowse, Director Gilles Pacquin wisely allows this dynamic musician to speak for herself by including snippets from interviews, appearances and personal reflections. “I always though it would be over tomorrow…I never thought that I’d be sitting here at this age like this,” the Superstar muses, when asked to reflect on her tremendous success and enduring popularity.

“My influences had been rock n roll and rhythm and blues and Edith Piaf and Miles Davis and a great variety of musicians,” the artist explains. As a result, her music displays variegated influences. She began to play the piano at the age of three years old, and continued to play intuitively “by ear” without professional training. From her early love of music to her Academy Award-winning hit “Up Where We Belong”, Sainte Marie composed many popular tracks, including “Until It’s Time for You to Go”, which was covered by Bobby Darin and Elvis Presley.
Her educational plans to travel to India yielded to her desire to write and perform her original tunes. As a result, she traveled to NYC to perform in coffeehouses and folk venues. The songs she wrote shared stories of love, poetic lyrics, political commentary, social ideas and the thoughts of her own Cree heart. The “Singer-Songwriter Movement” erupted in the 1960s as songwriters chose to compose their own tunes, create their own lyrics and convey their personal perspectives. Bob Dylan opened doors for her eventual discovery by the NEW YORK TIMES, which led to television appearances, further concerts and press coverage. Sainte Marie utilized her guitar talent and haunting vocals to popularize social justice issues, Joni Mitchell, Robbie Robertson, Bill Cosby and many other celebrities share their recollections of this powerful talent. These interviews provide context and deepen viewers’ understanding of the times that birthed the music that Buffy Sainte Marie played. Actual historical footage of the Vietnam War, Student Protests and the performances by folk singers sets the scene for realizing Sainte Marie’s cultural impact. ”Universal Soldier” became a prominent anti-war anthem as popularized by Donovan, yet Buffy Sainte Marie actually penned this poignant plea for pacifism.

Born in Saskatchewan during the 1940s, Sainte Marie was adopted and raised in Maine and Massachusetts, in a predominantly Caucasian community. Blair Stonechild, her biographer, believes that “that provided her an environment that required her to reach inside of herself….for the spark of creativity.” As a result of “predators” and racism in her childhood, Sainte Marie learned to channel her feelings into “artistic expression” through music. Music also helped her decide to pursue her ethnic heritage, which culminated in her return to the reserve where she was born. She was adopted by the descendants of Chief Piapot, and finally became a member of a Native American family.

Sainte Marie “put my time into Indian Rights” because “use each time I appear on television or on the radio or in a concert “ to educate her audience about Native American issues. “I felt as if I was giving them a gift by letting them know,” by taking the time to share historical anecdotes, discuss residential schools, adoption policies, historical grief and trauma during her pauses between songs. Floyd Crow Westerman analyzed this, stating, “It was a holocaust that Indians were stepping out of and she took the first step, so she took the first hit, and I think that makes her a certain kind of Warrior.”

“I was gonna need to take care of that quiet thing in me that kind of replenishes,” the artist explicates her decision to relocate to Hawaii for her creativity. “When I have that time and place and empty canvas I fill it with art,” she surmises, “for it’s not work for me, it’s the reward.” “For me, it’s fun,” she expresses as she adds digital art and media to her skill inventory.

“I just had one goal. For little kids and their parents to understand that Indians exist,”Sainte Marie shared about her years on “Sesame Street”, which opened the door to the show to teach youth about pregnancy, childbirth, breastfeeding and Native American life. Her appearance on the popular show impacted an entire generation by demonstrating a loving, caring Native family unit that functioned in modernity. Yet, for many in the mainstream, Sainte Marie earned a place in popular culture history by writing “Up Where We Belong” which won an Oscar.
As an Elder, Buffy Sainte Marie revived her academic training as a teacher to begin the CradleboardProject.Org in order to improve Indigenous Education through Curriculum Development and Computer Communities.

This documentary does an admirable job of linking each aspect of her brilliant career in a seamless film. Canadian Music Hall of Fame Member to Artist to Educator… each lifestage transition is displayed flawlessly throughout the program. “I hope you can get beyond our pretty costumes, our feathers, our paint and see what we have to offer,” summarizes this living legend. Well worth seeing, Buffy Saint Marie: A Multimedia Life depicts this Warrior Woman, Artistic Talent, Wisdom Teacher and Native Inspiration as she shows the world her amazing life and all she has to offer.


Buffy Sainte Marie:A Multimedia Life, The Documentary. Canada:Cinefocus,2006.

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