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Buffy Sainte-Marie says the protest song genre is in a period of eclipse because ‘most people are too chicken to do it — they don’t want to risk their careers.’ — The Canadian Press files Photograph by: Chris Young , THE CANADIAN PRESS
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This article was published originally on The Province on November 2, 2015.

Buffy Sainte-Marie still has a lot to say

Iconic musician/activist has a speaking date in Vancouver

BY DANA GEE, THE PROVINCE NOVEMBER 2, 2015, theprovince.com

Aboriginal voter turnout was so high in the recent federal election that some reserves actually ran out of ballots.

Buffy Sainte-Marie, the iconic performer and member of the Cree Nation, says the election turnout makes her proud.

But she does adamantly point out that electing a new government, and a record 10 aboriginal MPs, is just the beginning.

“Indigenous people can do a lot to help ourselves if we do get out and vote, so long as we don’t just become colonial ourselves,” Sainte-Marie said from her farm in Hawaii (she won’t give an exact location).

“Corruption in government can happen anywhere. There are plenty of corrupt Indian politicians, there are plenty in every group because that’s the nature of contemporary politics — there’s a lot of sleaze.

“I wish our new prime minister every success, but no matter who you elect you have to follow up. You have to keep your eye on the fox that just elected to guard the chicken coop.”

Sainte-Marie has been speaking out since she arrived on the music scene back in the early 1960s, and she will be speaking out again Wednesday at the Centre for Performing Arts in Vancouver as part of SFU Public Square’s We the City: An Evening at the Centre, beginning at 7 p.m.

The event is a discussion of the importance of art and culture in shaping a city.

Speaking at the event along with Sainte-Marie will be artist Candy Chang, art historian/photographer/writer Teju Cole, and cultural event producer Mo Dhaliwal.

“A lot of people are kind of interested on my take on whether the presence of aboriginal artists on the scene is going to make the city a better place,” said Sainte-Marie, who spent five seasons as a member of the Sesame Street gang.

“My comeback is: ‘Do the non-artists of the city have any idea of what they are missing in not celebrating all the artists in Vancouver?’

“Because I never see enough attention being paid to either music or art in the schools and out of the schools, music and art at home. I don’t think the problem is not that the city doesn’t do enough. I think as human beings we don’t do enough to encourage art in our little kids.”

Sainte-Marie is riding a wave right now, thanks to her Power in the Blood album having scored the coveted Polaris Music Prize a few months back.

“I’m very, very smiley. It’s a great gift 50 years after I started,” said Sainte-Marie, whose many honours include an Academy Award and multiple Junos.

“I’m really very, very flattered and I’m kind of proud of myself for having come forward with a record that feels so true to myself. But besides being proud of myself, I am very proud of the record company (True North Records) for having got it heard.”

Power in the Blood is a reminder that the fiery Sainte-Marie is one of the most profound purveyors of the protest song, a genre that, aside from some hip hop, doesn’t get a lot of play these days.

“I don’t think the audience has been unwelcome to strong words. I just think that most people are just too chicken to do it — they don’t want to risk their careers,” said Sainte-Marie, whose activism got her blacklisted by U.S. radio stations in the 1970s. “The record company is scared, everybody’s playing politics.”

When she is not in her garden or reading, Sainte-Marie is working on a piece for the Toronto Symphony and finishing up a children’s book.

“I just keep busy in the arts, and then when it comes time to get on an airplane I go out and give it away to other people and see what they can do with it.”

dgee@theprovince.com, twitter.com/dana_gee

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