ImagineNATIVE: Buffy Sainte-Marie lends experienced voice to indigenous issues

Buffy Sainte-Marie has been an inspiration to so many over the years and, this weekend, fans were eager to tell her so at two events during the ImagineNATIVE Festival.
'ImagineNATIVE is a place to showcase creativity of all kinds,' said iconic Canadian singer, songwriter and artist Buffy Sainte-Marie. (Paquin Entertainment)

Buffy Sainte-Marie has been an inspiration to so many since starting her career as a folk singer in the 1960s and branching out into electronic music, digital art, visual art, acting and, most recently, Powwow rock. Many people who participated in ImagineNATIVE's In Discussion with Buffy Sainte-Marie event Friday evening were eager to tell her so and to thank her both for her body of work and positive influence. 

Possibly the most poignant moment of the night came when someone asked the singer what inspires her and what keeps her going. Her response could easily have been clichéd, but Sainte-Marie — a true artist and student of the human condition — said it was her time visiting and touring small communities, meeting people and hearing their stories that really inspire her to keep going.

Whenever she tours, for every big city stop, she also plays at a small aboriginal community nearby or in the same country. This is what keeps her fire burning: meeting people on the front lines fighting for their rights and freedoms — an experience humbling for anyone, even the iconic Sainte-Marie, an outspoken activist for aboriginal rights who was blacklisted for decades in the United States. 

When I spoke with Sainte-Marie, she talked about how ImagineNATIVE has grown and the importance of the festival incorporating many different art forms, not just cinema or new media. 

"I think everybody is creative and ImagineNATIVE is a place to showcase creativity of all kinds," she said. 

Tyler Hagan is a Métis filmmaker from Vancouver who recently graduated with a BFA in film from Simon Fraser University. His work has been shown at festivals locally and internationally. Follow his ImagineNATIVE Festival coverage on CBCNews.ca/arts, plus updates via Twitter: @ShakeyFilms_TH 

There is a definite sense of community in the arts, with artists from all disciplines coming together and talking about their work. Sainte-Marie spoke about the diversity in the art on display and how it's important that the festival allows indigenous artists from all over the world participate.

"Geographically, it's not the same. Tribally, it's not the same. Linguistically, it's not the same. But, if you see a lot of it, you start to see a true picture of who we are," she said.

Also, her performance on Saturday night was a definite highlight of the festival. It brought together artists and viewers alike for a celebration in a way that only music can. 

Friday's talk was hosted by the CBC's Wab Kinew, who shared with the audience a bit of what he's been up to: a project called 8th Fire, which looks at contemporary aboriginal and settler relationships with the goal of talking about reconciliation and renewed identities. Set to air in January 2012, the TV program will be a four-part series of hour-long instalments and will also have supplemental material online. 

The festival closed Sunday night, so I'll be back shortly with a wrap-up and some award-winners. For now, I'll leave you with some Buffy and Johnny, for old time's sake.