Monday, May 11, 2015

Buffy Sainte-Marie: "Sometimes You Have to Be Content to Plant Good Seeds and Be Patient"


The Wild Reed's special countdown to the May 12 release of Buffy Sainte-Marie's latest album, Power in the Blood, continues with an excerpt from Buffy Sainte-Marie: It's My Way, Blair Stonechild's 2012 biography of the renowned singer-songwriter, social activist, digital artist, educator, and philanthropist.

NOTE: For the first installment of this series, one that contains a link to NPR's "First Listen" of Power in the Blood, click here.


Buffy longevity in the music business, now approaching fifty years, is in itself amazing. Buffy reflects that she used to be really shy and focused only on the song. She began to reconsider her songwriter uniqueness as a special tool that would help her grow into a more effective performer. She continues to have a mission to be effective in making positive change where and when and however she can. In talking about Native issues, Buffy sees beyond racism, identifying the real villain as the quest for further power and greed on the part of the already powerful, whatever their race. Her approach has been a non-combative, non-judgmental one of understanding human problems as a result of the immaturity of our young species, which she maintains is still developing. "Seems like the human race is a work in progress," she says. "Each one of us is, and we're all ripening day by day."

Buffy sees herself as an artist first, then a professional singer, educator, and activist. . . . When she's [not touring] Buffy feeds on solitude and immersion in nature with plants and animals, enabling her to tap into this wellspring and continually rejuvenate. But lest one think that her success comes simply from an overflowing of creativity and talent, those who know Buffy are also aware of how hard and unceasingly she works. When she takes on a task, she invests 110 percent effort, underscoring the adage that success comes as much from perspiration as from inspiration.

. . . Buffy admits that the journey has often been a lonely one. But she has come to appreciate the hidden power of being solitary. "I came to rely greatly on the part of me that was quite comfortable being private. And still I carry that today, even in airports when there is nobody I know. I travel, and in foreign countries I feel pretty comfortable. I don't feel lonely. I read and I write. I pray and I hear music in my head. I dream and I see visions of pictures that can turn into paintings. More that that, I see visions in the intellectual side of myself, where words come together with music and pictures for me. I think it's very natural, like kids at the beach, and I treasure the gifts that have been my best friends ever since I was a child."

Despite the drawbacks of frequent travel, Buffy feels lucky to have had a life filled with plane tickets, as this has given her ample opportunity to observe people – rich and poor, city and rural, doing well and not doing so well. And this has taught her a lot. Buffy has never-ending optimism and joy, a real pleasure in meeting people and maintaining friendships. Developing and maintaining such connections and friendships over the years has required tremendous energy and sacrifice. Yet she has no plans to slow down. Buffy has often noted that her career path "is her way" and cautions that it is not an easy route for someone else to follow.

. . . While Buffy has received accolades for her music, it has not been until recently that she received substantial public recognition for her endless efforts working with Aboriginal communities. Even in the AIM years of the 1970s, she stepped back and preferred to let others have the spotlight. From the 1980s to the present, Buffy's Cradleboard Teaching Project, which pioneered interactive, online education "through Native American eyes," is mainly known to educators and their students. Her philanthropic works, dating back to the Nihewan Foundation in 1968, has grown on largely unheralded except by charitable foundations, probably because of Buffy's own modesty and preference not to be in the spotlight simply for publicity's sake. Moreover, she has accomplished her goals mainly on her own initiative, without the benefit of government aid, and often to her own inconvenience. Still she has never grown tired, discouraged, cynical, or jaded, and feels that her mission is far from done.

"We all make our little contributions when we can and things change a little bit at at time," she says. "I think that's what ripens life. Bit it always seems so slow when you're carrying this Medicine and you know it can make things better, but there are gatekeepers profiting on the problems, and you'll have to wait awhile until the world is ready to receive it; so you go bit by bit: give when you have the chance.

"It's futile to try to rush the river, and pretty hard to hurry the moon, and sometimes you have to be content to plant good seeds whenever you can and be patient as you watch them grow and ripen. Thinking about my early attempts to be effective, I can say that in my lifetime things have not changed nearly enough; but when I look back on the last forty years, things have changed incredibly and I have great faith that the world will continue to ripen."

– Blair Stonechild
Excerpted from Buffy Sainte-Marie: It's My Way
Fifth House, 2012
pp. 253-259

To conclude this post I share a 2012 CBC interview of Buffy in which she talks about First Nations historian Blair Stonechild's biography of her.

Related Off-site Links:
Buffy Sainte-Marie, Power In the Blood, Review: "Every Track Counts" – Neil McCormick (The Telegraph, May 10, 2015).
Buffy Sainte-Marie: "I Don't Believe in Burning Out" – CBC Radio (May 13, 2015).
There's Power in Buffy Sainte-Marie's Blood: First Album in Seven Years Released – Jason Morgan Edwards (Indian Country, May 12, 2015).
Canadian Songwriter Buffy Sainte-Marie Laughs Off Her ‘Icon’ Status – Nick Patch (Global News, May 12, 2015).
The Interview: Songwriter and Activist Buffy Sainte-Marie – Elio Iannacci (Maclean's, May 5, 2015).
Activist and Musician Buffy Sainte-Marie on Her New Album and Reading Her FBI File – Alex Heigl (People, May 4, 2015).
Buffy Sainte-Marie's Power in the Blood: A Review – Andrea Warner (CBC Music, May 3, 2015).
Buffy Sainte-Marie Still Finds Joy in the Struggle – Alexander Varty (The Georgia Straight, April 29, 2015).
Hear a Previously Unreleased Buffy Sainte-Marie Track from Her ‘Blacklist Years’ – Nolan Feeney (Time, April 28, 2015).
Buffy Sainte-Marie Back in the Mood for Music – Mike Devlin (Times Colonist, April 23, 2015).
Buffy Sainte-Marie Returns with Power in the Blood – Alex Hudson (Exclaim, March 17, 2015).
Buffy Sainte-Marie's Official Website

For more of Buffy Sainte-Marie at The Wild Reed, see:
Buffy Sainte-Marie and That "Human-Being Magic"
Buffy Sainte-Marie's Lesson from the Cutting Edge: "Go Where You Must to Grow"
Buffy Sainte-Marie: Singing It and Praying It; Living It and Saying It
Buffy Sainte-Marie: Still Singing with Spirit, Joy, and Passion
Something Special for Indigenous Peoples Day
Buffy Sainte-Marie: "The Big Ones Get Away"

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