Music icon Buffy Sainte-Marie won the 2015 Polaris Prize for her album Power in the Blood, and she took the opportunity to drop some truth bombs after receiving the award.
"Aboriginal music has been good for a very long time, but nobody has been listening to it," the 74-year-old musician, activist and educator said to a group of gathered journalists backstage following her win.
It was in response to our question about the wave of young indigenous artists who are receiving wide critical acclaim for their work, such as last year’s Polaris winner Tanya Tagaq and Juno Award-winning DJ group A Tribe Called Red, and how she feels about being cited as a major influence in the "indigenous music renaissance."
“In the Aboriginal music scene, a lot of us know each other and I really thank them for acknowledging me as an influence and I give it right back to them,” she said. “I get just as much from them.”
She traces the shifting tide to the '90s, when she fought for recognition for indigenous music across the country. "When we first founded the music of Aboriginal Canada Juno category [in 1994], there was a big change in a lot of guys with cameras and tape recorders started coming to powwows, but it was like, 'How would you like to make a CD?' But they were really after the publishing. So I started a fax campaign at that point saying, no, learn how to copy protect your music so that in 10 years when someone is making a movie, they don’t go to some lawyer’s house in Toronto where he has the entire literature of Aboriginal music on the wall … and it means nothing to him."
Sainte-Marie — who has released more than 20 albums and won an Academy Award, a Golden Globe, a Gemini, a Governor General’s Award, three Junos and is a member of the Order of Canada — added that she has been steadily releasing music for 50 years (including two in 2008), but the difference with Power in the Blood was that "it got heard."
"That’s always been my problem because I had some serious, serious issues," she said. "Most people know my first three albums … but it was a matter of getting blacklisted in the '60s and having radio play denied to me for many years. It’s real hard to regain that momentum. … People did not want to hear the types of things I was saying in my generation, in the '70s.”
It’s been a long time coming, but the momentum finally seems to have changed in favour of Saint-Marie, who plans to use the $50,000 prize to fix up her studio to record more music, and donate to various charities for animal rights, marginalized and indigenous peoples and the environment.
"Aboriginal music has been good for so long, I’m just so glad that so many other people are able to enjoy it because of the press attention," she said.
Follow Jesse Kinos-Goodin on Twitter: @JesseKG