Buffy Sainte-Marie’s career began in 1962, graduating as an Oriental Philosophy major with a teaching degree from the University of Massachusetts. Emerging onto the folk music scene in Greenwich Village at age 22 with a lifetime of songs about everything, including Now that the Buffalo’s Gone and Universal Soldier, it was clear that she wrote about what she knew and cared about, including information that was obscure to general knowledge at the time. She was teaching on a stage instead of in a classroom, and her audiences were learning. The combination of on- and off-stage education became especially significant when some of her songs were challenged; and found to be accurate, bulletproof, and annotated with footnotes and references. (see these links: in-depth annotated Universal Soldier and Cree translations for many songs including My Country ’tis of Thy People are Dying) She successfully debated a congressman on Good Morning America who was promoting a bill to break all existing treaties, and educated the world about the realities of Native American sovereignty.
In 1976 her son was born and she spent the next sixteen years away from show business, but continuing to be an artist, and applying multimedia skills to her education mission. Donning her teaching credentials in a more academic way, from 1996 to 2009 Buffy Sainte-Marie focused most of her time on building the Cradleboard Teaching Project, an initiative of the Nihewan Foundation, (see Philanthropy) using her multimedia skills to create accurate, enriching core-subject teaching materials based in Native American cultural perspectives. She currently works with teacher education departments in several universities, teaching them how to create their own localized indigenous interactive multimedia curriculum in science and other core subjects using Cradleboard methods.
Presently, her focus is on developing another Nihewan Foundation initiative, the Creative Native Project. Creative Native is a mentoring program offering opportunities for Indigenous youth to learn how to develop their artistic passions and skills into a professional career. Informal modeling of Creative Native in three reserve communities in Saskatchewan resulted in the participation of Buffy and members of the Regina Symphony Orchestra in an unforgettable Arts Week, wherein students learned about everything from installing an art show to putting on a concert. During the pandemic, the program was adapted to become remotely interactive through Zoom. Six Nations Reserve in Ontario, with additional guidance from Ryerson University, resulted in student-created collaborative videos that included animation, costumes, makeup, music and storytelling.
Buffy is especially concerned with elementary grades and early childhood development. She feels that, amidst the trauma and complexities of current events including gruesome discoveries, children are in need of fun, accurate, positive realities about Indigenous people. Being a songwriter and having been on Sesame Street for five years, she knows the power of quick engagement upon short attention spans. To this end, she has recently offered her expertise in writing and narrating two of Downie-Wenjack Fund’s animated videos: Paddling on Both Sides (a 1-minute short about Sports) and Finding Our Way Forward (90 surprising seconds about Geography! yet to be released)