Buffy Sainte-Marie is an award-winning singer and songwriter, Indigenous-rights activist, children's-book author, former Sesame Street star, mother, teacher and mixed-media digital artist. Now 80, the Cree icon is still creating, performing and speaking out, knows how she'd like people to think of her: as an innovator. "I've always kind of tried to cover the base that nobody else is covering," she tells Yahoo Life.
Sainte-Marie, who lives in Hawaii, is uncertain of her origins, though believes she was born in 1941 on the Piapot First Nation reserve in Saskatchewan, taken from her biological parents when she a toddler, and adopted by a couple in Massachusetts. Growing up there, she faced many challenges, including bullying and sexual abuse, she says — and the messages, through school, that she "couldn't be Indigenous, because there aren't any anymore around here," and that she "couldn't be a musician" because she was unable to read European notation.
Sainte-Marie went on to teach herself guitar and become a successful folk singer and activist, getting her start in the '60s coffeehouse scene, becoming known for her anti-war anthem "Universal Soldier" and releasing her first of nearly 20 albums, It's My Way!, in 1964, and always speaking out about indigenous issues.
"I'm working with little kids right now in Canada, where we're facing all this bad, bad, bad, bad news about the bad, bad, bad, bad residential schools," she says, noting that she's working to also counteract the awful news with some good through her role on the board with the indigenous-awareness Downie & Wenjack Fund in Canada.
"We're making a series of one-minute videos that are some little piece of wisdom. And the part that I wanted to contribute … was to offset [the tragic news] with that of our contributions about what we've given to the world," she says, citing team sports, syringes and more. "You only hear about either our victimization or the problems of white people stealing our land," she stresses. "You only hear those two terrible stories, but there's a lot of good news."