I walked into a listening party of Buffy Sainte-Marie’s debut 1964 album, It’s My Way!, an essential intro to the woman whose activist efforts and biting lyrics brought attention to Indigenous issues long before there were talks of reconciliation or political apologies. Gail Sparrow, former chief of the Musqueam First Nation, opened the night with a traditional welcome and provided us with an important history lesson about the Musqueam peoples and the support that Sainte-Marie has shown them.
JB the First Lady, the emcee for the night — as well as recording artist and activist — hyped up the crowd with her warm and charming personality. She welcomed Andrea Warner to the stage. Reading the prologue from her newly-released book, Buffy Sainte-Marie: The Authorized Biography, Warner wove her humour into the story of Sainte-Marie. I was convinced that I needed this book. I needed to learn more about Sainte-Marie, a Cree musical legend, famously ousted from mainstream music for her lyrical activism and outspokenness against the mistreatment of Indigenous peoples. It was clear from these brief readings that Sainte-Marie would have been as huge as Joni Mitchell (who wrote the foreword to the book) and Leonard Cohen, her contemporaries and close friends, if not for her uninhibited activism.
In the Q&A between Warner and CBC’s Angela Sterritt, Warner reiterated this point, by saying that white journalism shapes the music industry and has contributed to the erasure of Buffy Sainte-Marie and her music.
The evening continued with a musical performance by JB the First Lady and guest DJ Rex Smallboy, formerly of the Cree hip-hop group War Party. After performing some of her own songs, as well a few collaborations with Buffy Sainte-Marie herself, JB and guest dancer Madelaine McCallum hit my emotions hard as they performed a song called “Unprotected Girl.” With McCallum performing in the role of the unprotected girl, she became stronger and prouder as she put on each piece of her cultural regalia. In the spirit of activism, the lyrics spoke to the vulnerability of Indigenous women and girls, the piece ending with both McCallum and JB wearing the regalia representing their native cultures.
Ending the inspiring and emotional event, Warner read another chapter which was followed by a book signing. Warner had the room enraptured with the story of Sainte-Marie, but I also attribute this to her complete confidence in reading her work to a room full of people. I think the secret to a good storyteller is that you feel like you can tell them anything and Warner did just that, taking her time with each person in the autograph lineup that came to see her. Some of us came for Buffy, but it is clear that Warner had won us all over by the end of the night.