By B. Simm
CALGARY — The title track from Buffy Sainte-Marie’s 1964 debut album was “It’s My Way.” A searing testament of independence and determination that helped launch a career that propelled her through five decades as a folk singer, writer, poet, activist, multimedia artist and philanthropist. In 2015, she re-recorded a gripping version of “It’s My Way” for Power In The Blood, which won the Polaris Music Prize for the best Canadian album. This year, that album is up for another two awards: the JUNOs’ Best Contemporary Roots and Best Aboriginal Album of the Year. Buffy took the time to talk about a little about doing it her “way,” unconditional love and the evolving state of Treaty 7.
BeatRoute: “It’s My Way” …You’ve carved out something for yourself. You have both rewards and your burdens, but you’re taking responsibility, you’re accountable for your actions. It’s like an affirmation to be you—carry the weight, you’ll have your day in the sun. A message of strength, leave the bitterness behind. That’s a powerful thing to have. What is it deep inside that gives you that honesty and endurance?
Buffy Sainte-Marie: Thanks for all that. I don’t know what else to call it but the Creator, the Great Spirit, also known as Mother Nature, the Sacred Feminine, the Holy Spirit—I fell in love with music, animals and the Creator as a real little kid when I had nothing else, and it’s always stuck with me through thick and thin, awards and abuse, happy days and sad. It’s been my way, my path, my connection outside of myself to everything and everybody else.
I majored in philosophy so I got to spend years studying – and enjoying – world religions and spirituality, and the song “It’s My Way” puts the emphasis on the word “Way.” People who follow Hindu ways of relating to the Creator talk about a person’s dharma, or way. It means your own path, your style, your road, and that’s what the song is about: finding your own way.
Not to be confused with Frank Sinatra singing Paul Anka’s song “My Way” that emphasizes the word “My.” “It’s my way” is not the same as “it’s my way.”
BR: The romantic in you is busting at the seams on more than one occasion. Smitten at times, and then disappointed with the cold-hearted. Yet “Not the Lovin’ Kind,” which challenges the unaffected with its infectious soul groove, is like an anti-love love song. Is unconditional love always the best recourse?
BSM: It’s the ultimate kiss-off song, eh? And it only has two chords — what a miracle. Actually your question is very good, and I feel that unconditional love is not always the best recourse. In my experience unconditional love either happens or doesn’t; and sometimes what feels like unconditional love from someone else has more to do with hormones than with reality. I’ve sometimes loved unwisely or for too long, seeing other people turn a corner where I can’t follow, wherein I had to pull back on my support of the behavior, even though my emotional love continued like a Disney fairy tale, and it can be a real torment. Sometimes we have to have the courage to disconnect from what lacks common sense. Reality is our friend.
BR: The late Michael Green along with members of Calgary’s One Yellow Rabbit theatre group, embarked on a serious attempt to raise an awareness and better understanding of the circumstances surrounding Treaty 7. I feel he made some progress… the proclamation “We are all Treaty people” is often heard in the media. Do you think that there’s been a turning point in Canada amongst non-Aboriginals that has begun to show and exert a sincere respect for First Nations people?
BSM: Yes, and I loved the idea of “We are all Treaty people” in theatre. I travel a lot among the high and mighty as well as in the humble grassroots, and I often come across people of all backgrounds who really do get it. We’re continually in the position of educating ourselves and one another, and what a privilege – it can be a lot of fun.
We have to try everything always. Theatre, songs, formal education, activism, writing, backseat conversations, they’re all important strategies for making things clearer, better, more real, more hip. For me in trying to make sense to non-Indigenous people, I try to remember that, #1: they have never had a real chance to know the truth about colonialism and us; #2: we are a very small minority and have had little chance to impact their mainstream consciousness but now we have; and #3: many non-Indian people do take us seriously and would love to know how to help. There’ll never be a better time for Aboriginal people to make friends and impact tomorrow with real positivity. The world is going to keep on turning and we will forever be in the positions of both teacher and learner, so might as well find ways to enjoy it.
Buffy Sainte-Marie headlines the JUNOfest Indigenous Showcase at the Grey Eagle Event Centre on March 31.AB, Alberta, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Grey Eagle Casino, Grey Eagle Event Centre, JUNOfest Indigenous Showcase, Junos, JUNOs 2016, Polaris Music Prize, Power in the Blood