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UBC Theses and Dissertations

She's ahead of the times : a study of how Buffy Sainte-Marie's music addresses Indigenous rights Tsatas, Sofie Athanasia


Most singer-songwriters in the 1960s and 1970s wrote protest music in opposition to the Vietnam War and in support of the Civil Rights Movement. Cree musician Buffy Sainte-Marie (b. 1941), however, was one of the few artists composing songs to call out the wrongs done to Indigenous peoples in North America, such as land dispossession, treaty violations, relocation, and Residential Schools. This study demonstrates how Sainte-Marie’s music addresses Indigenous injustices within both Canada and the United States. Discussions of Sainte-Marie’s music have dealt mainly with her lyrics. This study, in contrast, examines both lyrics and music, including such elements as harmony, timbre, form, vocal delivery, and dynamics. Furthermore, her songs are placed within the history of the protest music genre, revealing how Sainte-Marie uses aspects of the genre to advocate for Indigenous rights. Each chapter presents an analysis of how Sainte-Marie’s songs disrupt colonialism. Her music offers a history that challenges and exposes the blind spots in settler histories. Sainte-Marie also addresses the concerns of the American Indian Movement during the 1970s and the sexism that took place within the organization. By placing Sainte-Marie’s songs within the protest music genre, and through an analysis of both textual and musical elements, this study highlights the importance of her music in challenging the listener to really listen to what she has to say and the particular stories that she chooses to tell. The thesis reveals the significance of Sainte-Marie’s music in efforts of decolonization and allows the listener to reflect on current Indigenous injustices still taking place in North America.

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