At 80, singer-songwriter Buffy Sainte-Marie remains passionate about art, causes

For Native American Heritage Month, we are highlighting the career and causes of singer-songwriter Buffy Sainte-Marie

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Sunday, November 21, 2021
Oscar-winning composer Buffy Sainte-Marie still making art at 80
Buffy Sainte-Marie was the first Indigenous person to win an Oscar. She was also blacklisted by two presidents for anti-war protests.

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- Buffy Sainte-Marie was the first Indigenous person to win an Oscar. And now at 80, she's still going strong, as a singer, songwriter, composer and longtime activist and trailblazer who's been called "a disruptor of the status quo."

Sainte-Marie never minced words. Her 1964 debut album was called "It's My Way."

She was named "Billboard's" Best New Artist. Some of her songs addressed the mistreatment of Native Americans; she also wrote the powerful Vietnam protest song, "Universal Soldier."

"You know, a lot of people, they think that my career has been about either getting blacklisted because of 'Universal Soldier' or speaking out too strongly on behalf of Indigenous people," said Sainte-Marie. "I think I was seen as a loose cannon, saying too much, especially because there was so much Indian land being stolen at the time - so much! There was so much corruption going on. So I kind of got it. But here I am!"

Sainte-Marie was born on a Canadian reservation, adopted by an American couple and raised on the East Coast.

"They told me I couldn't be an Indian because there weren't any more around there. This was in Maine and Massachusetts where I was raised. So I was told I couldn't be a musician and I couldn't be an Indian and it just makes me laugh," said Sainte-Marie.

While many of Buffy's songs speak to adults, she loved speaking to children.

She appeared for years on "Sesame Street" and became a children's book author. One work involves her Cree heritage with a message to children about being themselves. Another from this longtime animal lover is a lullaby for pet adoption.

In 1983, Buffy became the first Indigenous person to win an Oscar. It was for co-writing "Up Where We Belong," the Best Original Song from "An Officer and a Gentleman."

"I still can't believe it. I think I just got lucky," said Sainte-Marie.