Buffy Sainte-Marie

Earlier this year Buffy Sainte-Marie released her 18th album, Running for the Drum.

Her first album, It’s My Way, for which she was awarded Billboard‘s Best New Artist in 1964, included Universal Soldier, which has become an anthem for peace. Her song, Until It’s Time for You to Go, was a huge popular success and has been covered by many artists, including Elvis Presley, Barbra Streisand, and Cher.

Effectively blacklisted during the Johnson and Nixon administrations because of her outspoken politics, she was a regular on Sesame Street for five years beginning in 1975. And in 1982, She won an Oscar for Up Where We Belong from the film An Officer and a Gentleman.

Nonetheless, many have forgotten her.

I’m reminding.

Listen to My Country ‘Tis of Thy People You’re Dying from the album Little Wheel Spin And Spin (1966) to truly grasp her from-the-heart lamentation for Native American peoples.

Here is Buffy Sainte-Marie singing on Pete Seeger’s little-seen Rainbow Quest UHF New York TV show from 1966. The words from that performance are below. They are slightly different from the lyrics published on her official website (© Gypsy Music, Inc.).

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Now that your big eyes are finally opened,
Now that you’re wondering how must they feel,
Meaning them that you’ve chased across America’s movie screens.
Now that you’re wondering how can it be real
That the ones you’ve called colorful, noble, and proud
In your school propaganda
They starve in their splendor
You’ve asked for my comment I simply will render:

My country ’tis of thy people you’re dying.

Now that the longhouses breed superstition
You force us to send our toddlers away
To your schools where they’re taught to despise their traditions.
Forbid them their languages, then further say
That American history really began
When Columbus set sail out of Europe, and stress
That the nation of leeches that conquered this land
Are the biggest and bravest and boldest and best.
And yet where in your history books is the tale
Of the genocide basic to this country’s birth,
Of the preachers who lied,
How the Bill of Rights failed,
How a nation of patriots returned to their earth?
And where will it tell of the Liberty Bell
As it rang with a thud
O’er Kinzua mud,
And of brave Uncle Sam in Alaska this year?

My country ’tis of thy people you’re dying.

Hear how the bargain was made for the West:
With her shivering children in zero degrees,
Blankets for your land, so the treaties attest,
Oh well, blankets for land is a bargain indeed,
And the blankets were those Uncle Sam had collected
From smallpox-diseased dying soldiers that day.
And the tribes were wiped out and the history books censored,
A hundred years of your statesmen have felt it’s better this way.
And yet a few of the conquered have somehow survived,
Their blood runs the redder though genes have been paled.
From the Grand Canyon’s caverns to craven sad hills
The wounded, the losers, the robbed sing their tale.
From Los Angeles County to upstate New York,
The white nation fattens while others grow lean;
Ah, the tricked and evicted they know what I mean.

My country ’tis of thy people you’re dying.

The past it just crumbled, the future just threatens;
Our life blood shut up in your chemical tanks.
And now here you come, bill of sale in your hands
And surprise in your eyes that we’re lacking in thanks
For the blessings of civilization you’ve brought us,
The lessons you’ve taught us, the ruin you’ve wrought us —
Oh see what our trust in America’s bought us.

My country ’tis of thy people you’re dying.

Now that the pride of the sires receives charity,
Now that we’re harmless and safe behind laws,
Now that my life’s to be known as your “heritage,”
Now that even the graves have been robbed,
Now that our own chosen way is a novelty,
Hands on our hearts we salute you your victory.
Choke on your blue, white, and scarlet hypocrisy,
Pitying the blindness for you’ve never seen
That the eagles of war whose wings lent you glory,
They were never no more than carrion crows.
Pushed the wrens from their nest, stole their eggs, changed their story.
The mockingbird sings it; it’s all that he knows.
“Ah, what can I do?” say a powerless few
With a lump in your throat and a tear in your eye.
Can’t you see that their poverty’s profiting you.

My country ’tis of thy people you’re dying.

She has been singing true stories for almost 50 years. Buffy Sainte-Marie is a national treasure.

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“Kinzua,” a well-known 60’s reference, is now a thin memory. It refers to the Army Corps of Engineers dam in Pennsylvania that flooded about ten thousand acres of Seneca Indian land, forcing the relocation of a third of the tribe and many graves. The dam was a unilateral repudiation of The Canandaigua Treaty of 1794 which said in part “…the United States acknowledge all the land…to be the property of the Seneca Nation; and the United States will never claim the same, nor disturb the Seneca Nation…in the free use and enjoyment thereof; but it shall remain theirs, until they choose to sell the same, to the people of the United States, who have the right to purchase.”

The Seneca land was seized despite vigorous protest.

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3 Comments on “Buffy Sainte-Marie

  1. I often hear people decry the various injustices throughout the centuries of “civilization.” Immorality and inhumanity upset them. They want to right the wrongs that are taking place now. We all do. That’s a nice thought.

    But when I mention to these well-meaning people that to be consistent with their strong feelings, this continent clearly needs to be returned to the native people from whom our ancestors stole it, they hem and haw and provide various excuses for their inaction.

    The takeover of this continent from those who lived here before Europeans “discovered” it was and is unjustifiable. Greed and might over right. But the crime was so great, and the appropriate reparations are so huge, that it transcends people’s ability to do something about it.

    Hooray for Indian Casinos. May we continue to lose a lot of money in them.

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