Joni Mitchell is Sparkling White Bear Woman: Music legend given Saulteaux name at 75th birthday bash

As stars gathered in Los Angeles to pay tribute to Joni Mitchell on her 75th birthday, a Saskatoon friend also arrived to deliver a gift to Joni Mitchell from the Yellow Quill First Nation — a traditional Salteaux name.

Traditional Indigenous name presented to Saskatoon-raised Mitchell by childhood friend at L.A. birthday party

This 1972 file photo shows Canadian folk singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell. Mitchell's 75th birthday party in Los Angeles this week was a star-studded affair, but included a special gift from a childhood friend, and a Saskatchewan First Nation. (Roy Jones/Getty Images)

What a 75th birthday party. 

This week in Los Angeles, a collection of the musical elite gathered to celebrate and pay tribute to Saskatoon-raised Joni Mitchell, one of the most influential artists of our time.

But among all that star power was a childhood friend from Saskatoon, who personally delivered a cultural honour gifted to Joni Mitchell in the form of a traditional Saulteaux name.

What's in a name

For the Yellow Quill First Nation, Joni Mitchell is Kāwāsapizit-Wābiski-Makawko-Ikwē, or Sparkling White Bear Woman.

"The feeling in that theatre and the numbers of people and the intergenerational aspect of the audience and the singers who have all obviously been influenced by Joni, it was just absolutely wonderful," Sharolyn Dickson said in an interview with CBC Radio's Saskatoon Morning.

A plaque presented to Joni Mitchell at her 75th birthday party to honour her with her Saulteaux name, Kāwāsapizit Wābiski Makawko-ikē, or Sparkling White Bear Woman. (Submitted by Sharolyn Dickson)

Dickson and Mitchell became friends when they were little girls attending school together in Saskatoon, and it was her job to deliver the traditional Indigenous name — a responsibility that was handed to her at the naming of the Joni Mitchell Promenade earlier this year.

"I received that as her designate, and it was my job then to place it in her hands," said Dickson.

Mitchell thankful 

Despite the distraction of a star-studded 75th birthday celebration, Dickson said the honour from the Yellow Quill First Nation was humbly accepted by Mitchell with gratitude and respect. 

"She's always been such a huge advocate of First Nations culture and it has been a strong interest of hers for years and years."

A plaque on Broadway Avenue commemorates Joni Mitchell's musical beginnings in Saskatoon. (Guy Quenneville/CBC)

The two lifelong friends are now working on the proper Saulteaux pronunciation of the name.

"She wants to learn how to say it correctly," said Dickson.

With files from Saskatoon Morning.


Danny Kerslake is an award-winning journalist who has worked in radio stations across Western Canada. In his career with CBC Saskatchewan, Danny has reported from every corner of the province and has lived and worked in Saskatoon, Regina and Prince Albert. Danny is a newsreader and digital AP for CBC Saskatoon.