San Francisco — Buffy Sainte Marie says the truth must be told of the genocide of Indigenous Peoples, with the facts of the murder, slavery and rape that European kings and queens, military, churches and banks were responsible for.
“It was bad leadership. Bad leadership comes and goes, but in Europe it was institutionalized,” Buffy said, speaking during an interview at her concert, as the 50th Anniversary of the Occupation of Alcatraz here.
“It was money. It was exactly the same as it is now.”
Speaking with Tony Gonzales, director of AIM West, Buffy said there must be truth, before there can be reconciliation. It must be given without wounding, hurting, or even getting even.
“You have to give people the truth, but you have to do it in a healing way. You can’t use it as a club.” She said the truth should not be an insult to people. Truth and reconciliation should be given to people in a way that they can handle.
“Learn what you are talking about, and give it to people in a way that is healing for all of us.”
Buffy described the Truth and Reconciliation efforts in Canada. It took 50 years to come about in Canada.
“Indian people in the U.S. are more oppressed than you know.”
“The farther south you go in the Americas, the harder it gets for Indian people.”
Speaking of the book, The Other Slavery, she said of the slavery of Indian people, “It was systematic and deliberate.” She said people want to blame what happened to Indian people — when they became poor, homeless, landless and their health was destroyed — on measles outbreaks and other things, but that was not the case.
“It wasn’t the measles, it was frick’en slavery.”
“It was hundreds of thousands of Native American people being shipped to the stock markets” of the Philippines, Europe, Middle East and around the world. She points out that the Doctrine of Discovery made it legal for explores to kill and enslave Indian people.
Buffy described how European men were sexually repressed at the time and “were rewarded with Indigenous women and girls to rape.”
“The people weren’t even considered human. Even if we were converted, we were enslaved.”
She said Native Americans must be “bullet proof educated” about this because the Doctrine of Discovery is embedded in U.S. law. It is embedded in all of the countries that were colonized and enslaved by European countries, England, France, Spain, Portugal, and the Dutch.
“And it was worldwide.”
Describing her childhood, Buffy said she was adopted and there was only one other Indigenous person in her town. She was told she couldn’t be a musician because she was dyslectic.
“They called it the ’60s scoop, but it had been going on a lot longer,” she said of the Indian children taken from their homes on the reserves in Canada. “We don’t even have a horoscope.”
Growing up in New England, she was told there weren’t any Indians anymore, that they had all been killed off. She was told, “There might be three or four in Arizona.”
Describing this “mixed up childhood,” she said she found her own way through music and indigeneity. She said realizing how mixed up the world is and that the world is weird, helped her.
“For a lot of us, it as if they threw the scrabble chips on the floor and it is all mixed up.”
“You find your way through. That is power.”
As a child, Buffy knew she had something to offer. “I wanted to give people something that they couldn’t get anywhere else. I wasn’t trying to copy Pete Seeger or somebody.”
“I wanted to give people uniqueness.”
“What gave me the courage to step on stage was the content of the songs because I knew what I was singing about.” She said people did not know about, Now that the Buffalo are Gone, or Bury my Heart at Wounded Knee.
“Before I was a singer, I was a teacher. I never looked at an audience that I wanted to wound, or get even with.”
It wasn’t so much courage, as this awareness that she had something to give that kept her going.
In the 60s, when she wrote Universal Soldier it was popular to protest and she had this recognition that she had something to give. “Donovan was getting credit for it, but I had written it,” she said of the song Universal Soldier.
Buffy focused on healing people, while some were just out there on the stage getting mad. She knew she wouldn’t last in show business in the U.S., but she did last in other parts of the world.
“I didn’t last in the United States, I was taken out,” Buffy said, referring to the fact that she was censored and blacklisted out of the music business by U.S. Presidents Johnson and Reagan because of her song, Universal Soldier, and her stance against the Vietnam War.
During the interview, Gonzales tells Buffy that as a Vietnam War veteran, it was her songs that helped him become aware of the truth. He remembers first meeting Buffy by way of Floyd Westerman, Bill Means and others in the American Indian Movement.
Asked about her first meeting with the members of AIM, Buffy said she was a teacher, an educator. She said she probably first met Clyde and Vernon Bellecourt, Russell Means, and Dennis Banks, when she was visiting the schools for Native children in St. Paul and Minneapolis, perhaps at the Heart of the Earth School, Red School House, and Akwesasne Freedom School.
“I was a teacher and I was interested in the early schools and AIM was supportive of that.”
AIM guys were different than she was. They were grassroots, street people, and some had been in prison. “AIM was doing different things than what I was doing.”
“They were letting young Native people know that just because people want to arrest you, doesn’t mean you have to go to prison.”
She said she always admired AIM for letting people know about Indigenous rights and human rights. “I really admire them in some ways,” she said.
“They had an impact on a couple of generations of Native American people and Indigenous all over the world.”
Although AIM became famous, there were other struggles all over the country in the ’60s, including the Boston Indian Council, another in Chicago, and there was the fishing rights struggle.
“AIM got so famous.”
“AIM went on and on, and there were some really personable people there.”
“The public got to miss a lot of the other great work that was going on, not only in the U.S., but also in Canada.”
“Resistance is not new, it has been going on for a very, very long time,” Buffy said.
Buffy said it is not just young people, but today the lights are coming on for everyone, even old people. She said what gives her hope is people who see things the way they are and still work for truth and reconciliation in a meaningful way.
“It is within ourselves to heal, to do better.”
The Blacklisting of Buffy Sainte Marie, by Brenda Norrell, Censored News
Speaking at Dine’ College in 1999, Buffy described how she was blacklisted out of the news business by Presidents Johnson and Reagan. The article was censored for seven years.
The Other Slavery: The Uncovered Story of Indian Enslavement in America, by Andres Resendez
In 1839, Captain John Sutter arrived in California and began acquiring Native American slaves from several nations to work the land he purchased. He eventually owned several hundred “Indian slaves,” whom he treated notoriously badly even by the standards of fellow slave-owners. The circumstances that let Sutter keep these slaves in an ostensibly free territory are part of the complex political and social forces that Andrés Reséndez sets out to unpack in The Other Slavery. But if the book makes anything clear, it’s that the single organizing force was simple: greed, and an absence of empathy that meant a slow genocide for the victims. — NPR
‘Buffy Sainte Marie: Truthtelling Indigenous Genocide’ article copyright Brenda Norrell, Censored News.
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Censored News is published by Brenda Norrell, a journalist in Indian Country for 37 years. Norrell created Censored News after she was censored and terminated as a staff reporter at Indian Country Today in 2006. She began as a reporter at Navajo Times during the 18 years that she lived on the Navajo Nation. She. was a stringer for AP and USA Today and later traveled with the Zapatistas through Mexico. She has been blacklisted by all the mainstream media for 13 years. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org