Thursday, 4 February 2010

Buffy Sainte-Marie

Last weekend, I travelled to Wolverhampton to attend a concert by Buffy St Marie, following which the local paper described her as an “irresistible force of nature and a star from head to toe.

A Cree Indian, Buffy came to prominence in the 1960s folk movement and has never been afraid to put political messages at the heart of her song-writing. Many songs focussed on rights for Native Americans including ‘Soldier Blue,’ 'My Country 'Tis of Thy People You're Dying' and ‘Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee.” She also wrote the anti-war anthem ‘Universal Soldier.’

She has run a Foundation for Native American Education for many years and the Cradleboard Teaching Project, which uses multimedia skills to create accurate curriculum studies from a Native American cultural perspective.

At the Wolverhampton concert, the commitment of Buffy and her Band to their culture was ever-present and inspiring. Many of her comments at the concert were also political and she freely expressed her views on certain political leaders and systems, past and present.

To be honest, I bought my first Buffy album ‘Coincidence and Likely Stories’ in the early 1990s because of her cultural background and life story before I heard any of her songs.

I am sure it will surprise no-one that a Cornish nationalist is interested in Native American identity and politics – but with me it goes back a long way.

I was given my first book on the American West on my seventh birthday. And when I was nine, I had the privilege to be taught by Molly Merkett who, each year, got her pupils at Indian Queens School to do a project on a specific country.

It was 1976 and, because the US bicentennial was taking place, she chose the United States of America. I was in my element and spent most of the year studying ‘Indians.”

It was also 100 years since the Battle of the Little Big Horn (Custer’s Last Stand) and this became one of my priorities. In June of that year, I was even allowed to make a presentation to School Assembly to mark the anniversary. One recollection of my presentation is that I discussed the divergent views on casualties from the battle. My perspective was that you couldn’t believe the ‘white man’ but the Indians were probably more likely to be telling the truth!

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