Buffy Sainte-Marie never falls behind. Her new album Power In The Blood, released when she’s 74, appears to coincide with the conclusion of Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission. In this June 2015 interview with Wendy Mesley on CBC’s The National she discusses residential schools, Idle No More and other concerns of First Nations peoples.
At her concerts she hangs a red dress to represent missing and murdered indigenous women. Here she says, “We have to find a new way to raise our sons….to demilitarize the male heart.” It’s a theme carried since her 1964 hit protest song, “Universal Soldier.”
I didn’t know who Buffy Sainte-Marie was until I was 26 when, reporting for The Hanover Post, I saw her perform live at a powwow at Saugeen First Nation. It was 1990. I’d led a life sheltered from activism and information about Canada’s aboriginal peoples, but that began to change thanks to her music.
She expresses hope that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission might make a difference by documenting abuse and the experiences of victims.
“It’s a big task to make things better in any family, including the Canadian family,” she observes.
She talks about how being blacklisted in the U.S. prevented people from hearing her message, but it never held her back. She has never reached the U.S. music charts again since the 1970s.
Coincidence And Likely Stories came out in 1992. It was her first album in 16 years, the first I bought, and probably the most political. It made the charts in Canada and the U.K. for the first time. It’s my favourite to date. Running For The Drum (2008) experimented with electronic dance rhythms.
But Power In The Blood returns soundly to a folk-rock style. The title track rages against cultural and environmental exploitation. “We Are Circling” is a sacred protest march for Mother Earth, family and unity. “Ke Sakihitin Awasis (I Love You Baby)” sounds like a poignant reworking of one of her most popular hits, “He’s An Indian Cowboy In The Rodeo,” while “Orion” harkens back to one her most beautiful songs, the tender, heart-wrenching, “Goodnight” (here’s Erasure’s admirable cover).
Overall, the album draws on her many strengths, including the ability to develop a complex canvas of emotions: outrage, affection, courage, loneliness, pride, belonging, sense of place. It’s all there.