Celebrate Buffy Sainte-Marie’s Birthday With These 5 Career Highs

By Sameer Rao Feb 20, 2019

Few artists can boast the creative or political longevity and impact of Buffy Sainte-Marie. The Indigenous singer-songwriter, who turns 78 today (February 20), established an international reputation for truth-to-power art and advocacy, with a particular focus on Native American and First Nations communities. 

Consider these five career highlights from the Cree artist’s tremendous body of work:

"It’s My Way!"

Sainte-Marie, who was born on Cree lands in Canada and raised in New England, exploded into the the ’60s folk scene with her 1964 debut. The album opens with "Now That the Buffalo’s Gone," a scathing indictment of governments’ ongoing damage to Indigenous land rights and self-determination:


Has a change come about my dear man
rnttOr are you still taking our lands
rnttA treaty forever your senators sign
rnttThey do dear lady, they do dear man
rnttAnd the treaties are broken again and again
rnttAnd what will you do for these ones

The record also produced two songs, "Cod’ine" and "Universal Soldier," that have since become folk standards thanks to covers by Janis Jopin and Donovan

Nihewan Foundation for Native American Education

As her growing popularity reportedly made her a target of the U.S. government, Sainte-Marie launched the Nihewan Foundation in 1969. With a mission to advance Indigenous children’s educational outcomes, the foundation has supported scholarships for university students and developed then-radical Indigenous studies models. The best-known of the foundation’s initiatives is the Cradleboard Teaching Project, which facilitated cultural exchange and nuanced curricula about Native American communities between Indigenous and non-Indigenous classrooms. 

"Sesame Street"

Sainte-Marie carried her passion for children’s education into a five-season stint on the popular kids program during the l970s. Many of her segments involved teaching puppet residents about Native American culture. Here’s Sainte-Marie explaining the mouthbow

"Up Where We Belong"

Sainte-Marie co-wrote this song for the 1982 film, "An Officer and a Gentleman." The ballad earned her an Oscar for best Original Song—the only one ever won by a Native American artist.

"16 Million Colours"

Outside of music, Sainte-Marie was an early adapter of Apple computers as vehicles for visual art. Her recurring exhibition, "16 Million Colours," features large portraits of Indigenous people and characters (including herself) that trace 30 years of Macintosh art software’s evolution.