Lois Ann Dort

Messages of hope alive in Medicine Songs: Sainte-Marie set to perform across province

Chronicle Herald Nov. 1, 2017

Canadian icon, activist, artist and singer Buffy Sainte-Marie is coming to Nova Scotia in November on a tour to promote her new album, Medicine Songs and take part in several speaking engagements. With decades of experience working on social justice issues, through song and action, Sainte-Marie is one of the most recognizable voices in the Canadian entertainment industry. She spoke to the Herald about her forthcoming album and her social justice work from her home in Hawaii. 

Medicine Songs is “a combination of songs, some of them are protest songs and others are just the opposite of protest songs and we don’t really have a word for that,” she says.

Many of the songs on the new release are re-recordings of previous work such as Buffalo Soldier and Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee. There are also exciting new songs including a collaboration with Tanya Tagaq on the track, You Got To Run which was recorded, “thanks to the Polaris Prize.”

“I won the Polaris Prize (2015) and they said, ‘We’d like to support a collaboration between yourself and some other Polaris Prize winner.’ And of course I chose Tanya Tagaq. We had wanted to work together for years.”

Sainte-Marie says of this album, “What I wanted to do was corral all of my songs that encouraged progressive common sense; protect the environment, support the people songs…By corralling all of these songs and their tremendous positivity, it’s the best I can do to make an incisive, three minute, statement. I thought it was time for these songs to be all in one place.”

“The songs are about classic themes,” says Sainte-Marie, “and they do recur when we are not looking. In the 60s we thought that we had it sussed. We did not think these problems would recur. Just like after the WWI and WWII, we believed that we had put an end to war, but it keeps coming up.”

Producing new music and touring allows Sainte-Marie to reach new audiences, “It’s a chance for new ears to hear my perspective on classic ideas. Because oppression recurs, racketeering recurs. We continue to have war, we can make peace, but we make war more. Medicine Songs is my contribution.” She has concert dates across Nova Scotia, listed below, in the month of November. Medicine Songs release date is November 10.

Sainte-Marie’s speaking engagements, in both Antigonish and Wolville, will revolve around the topic of  detoxifying aboriginal self-perception and outward identity. When asked to describe the content of the talk she said, “In my experience of 50 years travelling around, as a college graduate, in the grass roots  and also in show business; it seems to me that just about everybody is very ignorant about aboriginal anything. Even my own college professors.

“Consequently, aboriginal people have learned to see ourselves through the eyes of hundreds of years of competitive European entrepreneurs.”

Her talk will focus on illuminating a rich indigenous history, with contributions and developments in all aspects of life. “Most college professors still don’t know about all the pre-columbian advances in astronomy, optics, acoustics, dentistry, cranial surgery, and agronomy; they tend to think of us in terms of arts and crafts. In my speech, that’s what I am addressing.”

She adds, “There were so many indigenous systems of government and both the U.S. and Canada borrowed a lot from that but we don’t get told that in school. Many European scholars, politicians, entrepreneurs, military; they saw us and our ideas and our alternative systems as competition and they felt that if we were not operating in a bullying fashion, and if a chief’s word carried no coercion, then they felt that our civilizations would not work. As if you have to have bullying from the top in order to have government, and it’s not true.”

Sainte-Marie says her work is about positive resistance. “Although the headlines are all about blood and guts and war and bozo politicians; there’s a lot of other good things going on in the world and much of it can be shared from an aboriginal perspective.”

When asked to comment on local indigenous issues she says, “It’s my job to spotlight what people are doing locally, not to step in and speak for them…My job is to shine a light on what is going on locally. I’ve always considered myself a learner and I never put myself into the position of being the spokesperson.”

In addition to the talk, a short documentary about her life as an artist will be shown at the Antigonish speaking event on Nov. 3. The film, titled, A Multimedia Life focuses on Sainte-Marie’s life as an artist and entertainer.

The Medicine Songs global release date is Nov. 10.

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