Born on the Piapot Cree First Nations Reserve in Saskatchewan in 1941, Sainte-Marie faced adversity from a young age. However, she excelled academically, earning a degree in teaching and a Ph.D. in fine arts from the University of Massachusetts. And it was her musical talents that brought her to the forefront of Canadian culture.
Sainte-Marie’s music reflects her deep connection to her Indigenous heritage, as well as her commitment to social justice. Her early work, including the iconic protest song “Universal Soldier,” helped to define the political landscape of the 1960s and 70s, inspiring people to take action against war, poverty, and discrimination. Her music also celebrates the cultural traditions of Indigenous peoples, about their struggles and resilience.
Sainte-Marie’s influence on Canadian music and culture is huge. She was one of the first Indigenous artists to achieve mainstream success, winning a Juno Award for Best Folk Album in 1965, and later achieved international acclaim with hits like “Up Where We Belong” and “Until It’s Time for You to Go.” She was also the first indigenous woman to win an Academy Award, for the song “Up Where We Belong,” which she co-wrote with Jack Nitzsche and Will Jennings and which was featured in the film “An Officer and a Gentleman.”
Buffy advocates for Indigenous Rights
In addition to her music, Sainte-Marie has been an advocate for Indigenous rights and education throughout her career. She has worked to promote Indigenous culture and language, helping to establish the Cradleboard Teaching Project, which provides educational resources for Indigenous youth, and the Nihewan Foundation for Indigenous Education, which aims to improve access to education for Indigenous peoples worldwide.
An icon in Canadian Music History
Sainte-Marie’s contributions to Canadian culture and heritage have been recognized with numerous awards and accolades, including induction into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame, the Order of Canada, and the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame. She has also been honoured by the Native American Music Awards, the Governor General’s Performing Arts Awards, and the Polaris Music Prize.