Buffy Sainte-Marie wows CUPE delegates with peace message, poetry and song
TORONTO - Legendary folk singer and poet Buffy Sainte-Marie brought 2,000 union delegates to their feet Tuesday with an anti-war message punctuated by poetry and a trademark anti-capitalist protest song that showcased the power and depths of her artistry.
At 66, Sainte-Marie exuded strength and serenity as she urged her rapt audience to remember that no single group of people, no nation, has a lock on wisdom or culture.
"For those of us educated in North America, it's as though European thought is the only option, and it's not," Sainte-Marie told delegates at a convention of the Canadian Union of Public Employees.
"There's a whole treasure trove of other cultures. This world of ours is just a treasure trove of good stuff."
Sainte-Marie, who was born on the Piapot Cree reserve in Saskatchewan's Qu'Appelle Valley, spoke of the education she has received through her extensive travels.
"I had the privilege of going to the remote parts of the world that Madonna and Michael Jackson never get to visit," she said to laughter.
Over an artistic career that has spanned three decades, she has won an Oscar, been inducted into the Juno Hall of Fame, and received a star on Canada's Walk of Fame.
Sainte-Marie, who has also made a name defending and promoting aboriginal cultures in Canada and abroad, spoke bluntly of how indigenous North Americans had the misfortune to run up against Europeans "discovering" the New World.
"We were slaughtered by gangs of alcoholics, under the pressure of the Inquisition," she said.
The CUPE delegates rose to their feet on several occasions as Sainte-Marie spoke.
At one point, she spontaneously began drumming on the lectern and broke into a powerful song on the excesses of capitalism and what she called the "mindless greed" of modern politics. The crowd roared its approval.
People have forgotten or failed to learn that our primary purpose is to "make community," Sainte-Marie said.
"When one has a billion, and a billion have nothing, there's something wrong," she told the delegates, who are holding an anti-poverty rally in Toronto on Wednesday.
Sainte-Marie was especially scathing in her assessment of the conflicts raging in Iraq and Afghanistan.
She said those wars are nothing more than "money laundering" that loots local economies - the kind of outspoken position that saw her blacklisted in the U.S. during the Vietnam War era.
"It's got nothing to do with any of the ideals for which young people will enlist to protect their country, to preserve their traditions," she said. "It's a big fat lie."
She recited the lyrics from "Universal Soldier," the powerful anti-war song she wrote decades ago and which has been covered by such big-name artists as Donovan.
Yet despite her pointed criticism of capitalism, greed and how aboriginal peoples have been mistreated both in Canada and abroad, Sainte-Marie's message was an inspirational one of peace, forgiveness and redemption.
"Every single person has something to give," she said. "We have to have faith that we can teach each other and learn from each other."