Buffy Sainte-Marie made a name for herself in the North American folk scene with her 1964 album, It’s My Way! Born on a Cree Indian reserve in Canada, she was adopted as an infant and raised in the United States. Sainte-Marie has always been a politically engaged musician, focusing on First Nations and Native American issues, ecology, and anti-violence. She is considered an icon in Canada, but her profile in the United States is somewhat different.
Many people in this country probably recall her as a folkie, but her music has been experimental and electronic as far back as her second album, Illuminations, in 1969, and has moved into a rousing rock-and-roll anthem aesthetic in the last couple of decades. And if people noticed that her songs disappeared from the radio in the 1970s, they might be shocked (or not) to know the reason: Sainte-Marie was blacklisted by presidents Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon. They didn’t appreciate her support of Native American activist movements, such as the 1973 occupation of Wounded Knee, South Dakota, on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, by the Oglala Lakota and followers of the American Indian Movement.
In a 2018 interview with Vogue magazine, Sainte-Marie recalls learning the truth about what happened long after the fact: “No one tells you when you’re blacklisted. Lyndon Johnson’s administration — not the U.S. government, but his handful of cronies making nasty phone calls from a back room — had files on me that I didn’t find out about for more than 20 years. I had never broken a law in my life. All the files proved was that I was innocent of any wrongdoing. But I had no idea what they had done to my career. … They put out the idea to some very influential people — record companies, radio people — that I may be suspect. At the time, I was performing all over the world — but my career in the U.S. was very quiet.”
Sainte-Marie plays at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 10, at the Lensic Performing Arts Center (211 W. San Francisco St.). The event is a fundraiser for Indigenous Solutions, Tewa Women United, and the Friendship Club. Call the Lensic Box Office at 505-988-1234 or go to lensic.org for ticket availability.