Buffy Sainte-Marie performs during Hardly Strictly Bluegrass at Golden Gate Park in Oct. 2016 in San Francisco.Scott Dudelson/Getty Images
The Truth about War: The War Machine and Censorship in Indian Country
By Brenda Norrell
The War Racket.' Buffy's strong words for the corporate war profiteers: The Parasites.
At Dine' College, Buffy said she was blacklisted out of the music industry in the U.S. by President Lyndon Johnson, because of her stance against the Vietnam War and her song, 'Universal Soldier." Her words to us, backstage at Dine' College in 1999, were censored by Indian County Today, where I was a staff reporter, and is one of the reasons Censored News was created.
Buffy Sainte Marie, and Louise Benally of Big Mountain, were both censored by Indian Country Today. As the U.S. bombed Baghdad, Louise compared the war in Iraq to the genocidal Longest Walk that her ancestors were forced on to Fort Sumner, Bosque Redondo.
Indian Country Today, which was sold to new owners in the late 1990s, refused to publish Louise's comments.
Beyond images of women and Indians: Straight-talk from
By Brenda Norrell (1999)
Dine' College, Buffy Sainte-Marie is visionary and
philosopher, folk star and educator, mother and
confidant to truth-seekers. A voice of history and
reason, the Cree poet and songwriter describes life on
the rim, beyond the defined images of women and
Relaxing after her performance onstage, Buffy says she
always refused to be categorized as an
aerobic-Indian-princess-Pocahontas. The result: She
was blacklisted, and along with her Indian
contemporaries put out of business.
"I found out ten years later, in the 1980s, that
Lyndon Johnson had been writing letters on White House
stationary praising radio stations for suppressing my
Buffy, however, is focused on art, not bitterness, and
explains that in Indian communities, there is no name
"In my own language, there is no word for art."
Instead, they say, "It shines through him." That, she
says is the mystery -- the artist is a vehicle for the
Backstage, Buffy takes chalk in hand, detailing how
the 1960s and 1970s -- the student movement and
American Indian Movement -- were the roots of change.
In the 1960s in Minneapolis, "The guys were in the
streets. The guys who would become AIM." In Boston,
and elsewhere in the East there was no awareness of
"I grew up in Maine and Massachusetts, and I was told
that I couldn't be Indian because all the Indians were
gone," Buffy said.
"So, in other words, the consciousness was Zero." But
there were inklings in the white world, like in the
National Indian Youth Council and the Upward Bound
program recruiting Indian students for college, that
there was a need for change.
"In the Indian community, in Saskatchewan where I am
from, the Indian people were real grass-rootsy and
they had no clue of how they were being ripped off. In
the grassroots in general, people were being worked
over by the oil companies."
The student movement and coffeehouses of Greenwich
Village became her platform in the 1960s. In the
multi-racial movement, students were talking and
students were listening.
"The student movement was extremely important. It's
not happening right now, but it was then and it was a
small window through which people like myself came
into show business."
"Coffee was the drug of choice." And the lyrics and
the movement were serious.
"It meant that people like myself could get on a bus,
in sneakers and a trench coat with a guitar, and fill
In the late 1960s, coffeehouses were suddenly viewed
as moneymakers. "In show business, whatever is making
money is like honey -- and it attracted a lot of bugs
-- a lot of sharks."
The lyrics were watered down and coffeehouses that
remained open had liquor licenses.
"In the 1970s, not only was the protest movement put
out of business, but the Native American movement was
Meanwhile, Buffy cut a singular path. "I usually
didn't do what other people did. You didn't find me at
peace marches. I was out in Indian country."
Then, came the occupation of Wounded Knee and the
shoot-out with FBI agents at the Jumping Bull
residence at Pine Ridge June 26, 1975. "That is where
Leonard Peltier's troubles began" Buffy says.
Buffy says that few people recount the true history of
what happened on that day in history.
"Who recalls that on that day one-eighth of the
reservation was transferred in secret -- on that day.
It was the part containing uranium. That is what never
seems to be remembered."
At the time, Buffy was selling more records than ever
in Canada and Asia. But, in the United States, her
records were disappearing. Thousands of people at
concerts wanted records. Although the distributor said
the records had been shipped, no one seemed to know
where they were. One thing was for sure, they were not
on record shelves.
"I was put out of business in the United States."
Later she discovered the censorship and pressure
applied to radio stations by President Lyndon Johnson
during the Vietnam era, particularly toward her
"Universal Soldier" during the anti-war movement.
Buffy says Indian people were put out of business, not
just because they were succeeding in Indian country,
but because they were succeeding in the broader
community. She and others were a threat to the
moneymakers of concert halls, uranium and oil.
Then, fellow activist and poet John Trudell's wife and
children were burned to death in a house fire shortly
after he burned an American flag in Washington D.C.,
February 11, 1979.
"I was just one person put out of business. John
Trudell is just another person whose life was put out
of business. Anna Mae Aquash and Leonard Peltier were
put out of the living business -- we were made
But she continued. Moving into electronic music, which
she says Americans didn't want to hear, then into
music scoring. In the 1980s, she began producing
digital art on her Macintosh at home. Those
brightly-colored large-scale paintings are now
featured in museums.
"Sixteen million colors are hard to resist," she says
of the computer's palette.
In the 1990s, she created the Cradleboard Teaching
Project to link American Indian students with other
students online around the world. Traveling now to
Indian communities and colleges, the project debunks
stereotypes and shares history and culture by way of
Sharing the concert stage at Dine' College with
Trudell, Buffy says she and Trudell were "just
puppies," during the takeover of Alcatraz in the
1960s. Yet, they kept struggling; kept surviving.
"We just kept chugging on. We kept coming to Indian
country. We didn't worry about the fortune and fame
because we went with our sincerity, our hearts, and
with our friends."
There was the pain of seeing people hurt, but the
movers of the '60s and '70s survived, developed,
taught, and shared with old friends the joys of
watching children and Indian country grow.
"It was hard -- seeing people hurt," she says. And
there was the pain of seeing women and the elderly
treated with lack of respect. But, people began to
sobber up and change. Her "Starwalker" is a tribute.
"Starwalker is for all generations past and yet to
come. So many people have seen the reality of that in
their lives," she says, adding that the song is one of
"Starwalker he's a friend of mine
You've seen him looking fine he's a
he's a Starwalker don't drink no wine
ay way hey o heya
Wolf Rider she's a friend of yours
You've seen her opening doors
She's a history turner
she's a sweetgrass burner and a
ay hey way hey way heya"
Although Buffy makes her home in Hawaii, much of her
time is spent in Canada and on the road. Fame,
however, has it drawbacks, making it impossible to
simply attend a pow wow. "Sesame Street put an end to
Buffy said Native people in Canada are doing well in
all walks of life, the government, television and law.
"It's not like it is in the United States."
What has happened in Canada? Canada attracted a
different type of European. "People didn't want to put
up with the U.S. gobbily-greed."
Then, she adds, "Native people were hipper. Things are
still very pure, but very strong in Canada."
Questioned about the media, Buffy says if you want to
find out the motive behind a newspaper's coverage,
look to see who owns the paper. She was asked by a
Native photographer why only negative articles are
published in a leading Arizona paper.
"Find out who owns it," she says, explaining that this
fact will reveal the motive.
Then, she adds, "Don't let the bastards get you down."
Buffy was born on the Piapot Cree Reserve in
Saskatchewan in 1941. Later, while evolving as a revolutionary
folk-singer, she received degrees in Oriental
Philosophy and teaching, and a Ph.D. in Fine Art from
the University of Massachusetts.
A young Bob Dylan heard her sing in Greenwich Village
and recommended she perform at the Gaslight, another
hangout of the avant-garde. Janis Joplin and Elvis
Presley were among those who recorded her lyrics.
On the road, she traveled the world and received a
medal from Queen Elizabeth II.
Shifting gears as a mother, Buffy and her son Dakota
Wolfchild Starblanket became stars of Sesame Street in
1976 and dissolved myths about who Indians are. "Up
Where We Belong," recorded for the film "An Officer
and A Gentleman," won an Academy Award in 1982.
After the release of her album "Coincidence and Likely
Stories," in 1993, she helped establish a new Juno
Awards category for Aboriginal Music in Canada. That
same year, France named Buffy "Best International
Artist of 1993."
Defying definition, she has also written country
music, including "He's an Indian Cowboy in the Rodeo."
She served as an adjunct professor in Canada and New
York, and as an artist in residence at the Institute
of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe.
Onstage at the Native American Music Festival at Dine'
College, a benefit concert for the Dine' Council of
Arts and Humanities, Buffy sang selections from her
1996 release, "Up Where We Belong."
Festival organizer Ferlin Clark recalled driving Buffy
through Apache country to share her Cradleboard
Teaching Project, then convincing her to drive until
dawn to reach the Navajo's Canyon de Chelly. Once at
Spider Rock, Buffy reached for a pen and paper to
write. Inspired, she knew she would return.
In concert, Buffy dedicated "Bury My Heart At Wounded
Knee," to Leonard Peltier.
The lyrics tell the story of Native people of the
1880s and later in the 1960s and 1970s, that fell to
the hands of the "robber barons" driven by greed for
oil, gold and precious metals. While manipulating the
media and politicians, they added uranium to their
agenda in the Twentieth Century.
In the song, Buffy sings of a senator in Indian
country, a "darling of the energy companies," and
covert spies, liars, federal marshals and FBI.
Buffy sings her safety rule: "Don't stand between the
reservation and the corporate bank. They send in
The song is also tribute to assassinated activist
Anna Mae Aquash, whose murderers remain at large. The
lyrics describe the act of the FBI in cutting off her
decomposed hands under the guise of identification.
"My girlfriend Annie Mae talked about uranium
Her head was filled with bullets and her body dumped
The FBI cut off her hands and told us she'd died of
Bury my heart at Wounded Knee
Deep in the Earth
Cover me with pretty lies
bury my heart at Wounded Knee."
The War Racket Lyrics
You investors in hate
You Saddams and you Bushes
You Bin Ladens and snakes
You billionaire bullies
You're a globalized curse
You put war on the masses while you clean out the purse
You old feudal parasites just sacrifice the poor
You've got the cutting edge weapons
But your scam's still the same as it's been since the Romans
It's the patriot game
It's the war racket
You creeps of disguise
Like worms in your eyes
You privileged bankers
You gambler thieves
You profit on war
There's less money in peace
Country after country, crime after crime
You pretend it's religion and there's no one to blame
For the dead and impoverished in your little patriot game
Honey, that's the war racket
Make a fortune on weapons, destruction and drugs
But your flags and boots and uniforms start to all look the same
When both sides are killing in the patriot game
It's the war racket
In the cross-hairs of horror at the end of a gun
And your national anthems start to all smell the same
When all sides are dying in the patriot game
It's the war racket
It's just a greedy men's dream
And you two-faced crusaders
Both sides are obscene
War's not made by God
War's made by men
Who misdirect our attention while you thieves do your thing
About every thirty years
The rich fill their coffers
The poor fill with tears
The young fill the coffins
The old hang a wreath
The politicians get photographed with their names underneath
It's the patriot game
It's the war racket