The author of the 2012 biography, Buffy Saint-Marie: It’s My Way, says the Cree singer-songwriter, artist, educator and social activist seemed happy to help him with his book.
“She said she thought I was a good researcher,” Blair Stonechild adds, “and I know she wanted somebody who understood the indigenous perspective of her work.”
Stonechild, who is a professor of Indigenous Studies at First Nations University of Canada in Regina, was raised on a reserve in southern Saskatchewan next to the one where Buffy herself was originally from.
He grew up listening to her protest songs and also came to appreciate her versatility in a variety of musical genres such as folk and country as well as her pioneering work in the development of music with an indigenous beat like “powwow rock,” a term that Buffy coined.
Professor Stonechild spoke to Warktimes about his biography of the singer in March a little over two weeks before her album “Power in the Blood” won two Juno awards in the aboriginal and contemporary roots album categories.
Stonechild was a keynote speaker at an indigenous conference held at Mount Allison University where he talked about the power of indigenous spirituality, a spirituality that Buffy herself expresses in much of her music including the classic song “Starwalker.”
He also points out that indigenous spirituality is reflected in aboriginal languages including in names such as his own.
Naming is knowing
“In the case of Stonechild, literally what it means is ‘protected by the spirit of the stone’, so in a sense, it’s like you’re a child of the spirit of the stone,” he says adding that for indigenous peoples, stones have spirit and consciousness like everything else in creation even though European, industrialized people might not think so.
“This idea about, for example, stones not having consciousness is actually a very recent revision of human thinking because I would point out that prior to 1820 indigenous peoples were actually the majority of the population on the Earth,” Stonechild says.
“In our indigenous languages, we have kinship terms for everything which reflects the idea, of course, that we’re all related.”
Stonechild says that once people realize that the spirit world is real, they can develop ways of re-connecting with it through spiritual activities such as fasting, taking part in ceremonies, dream work, meditation and vision-questing.
He points out, however, that entering into the real world of the spirit also requires a reversal of the colonizing process during which European newcomers suppressed indigenous peoples’ ways of seeing the world along with their languages and cultures.
“One of the things I also say is European people also suffer from the process of colonization,” he says adding that when he showed his manuscript to Buffy Sainte-Marie, she remarked that the newcomers “missed a real opportunity to learn from the indigenous peoples of the land about holistic culture and their outlook on life.”
Stonechild’s book is scheduled to be released on May the 6th.
Click to listen to Laura Landon’s radio report on CHMA-FM in which Blair Stonechild discusses Buffy’s music and the power of indigenous spirituality.