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For Mohawk and Tuscarora writer Falen Johnson, Buffy Sainte-Marie has always been there, like a North Star. But outside of Indigenous country, it's different – some say Buffy is the most under-acknowledged musician of her time.
Buffy emerged from the Greenwich Village Folk Revival scene alongside Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell and Leonard Cohen. She's been covered by everyone from Elvis to Courtney Love, she was the first Indigenous person to win an Oscar, and the first artist to record an album over the internet. For 60 years Buffy's music has quietly reverberated throughout pop culture, and provided a meaningful touchstone for Indigenous resistance. From the Occupation of Alcatraz to breastfeeding on Sesame Street, this five-part series considers how Buffy's life and legacy is essential to understanding Indigenous resilience.
For a full list of production credits, scroll to the bottom of this page.
Episode 1: Javex, USA
On a cold February day in the Canadian prairies, a Cree baby named Beverly Sainte-Marie is born. But she's sent far away to live with an adoptive family in a small American town she later dubs Javex, USA, because it was so white. She finds refuge in music and discovers a one-way ticket to freedom: her guitar. Beverly becomes Buffy.
Episode 2: Universal Soldier
Buffy is traveling from gig to gig in the 60s, armed with her guitar and little else. She makes a splash on the coffeehouse folk scene, rubbing shoulders with artists like Joni Mitchell and Bob Dylan. Tectonic changes are around the corner, and her rising success comes with some hard lessons about who to trust — and what it means to be a Indigenous woman in the music business.
Episode 3: Qu'Appelle Valley, Saskatchewan
A chance encounter at a powwow leads Buffy to the place she might have been born. It's a personal journey entwined in a political one, and she sees what her budding fame could mean for Indigenous rights. She heads to the original #LandBack movement, the Occupation of Alcatraz, and starts taking every opportunity to speak out about Indigenous rights. Buffy's voice, loud and clear, becomes the soundtrack for the movement.
Episode 4: The Spotlight
Now in her mid-30s, Buffy makes her historical Sesame Street debut in 1975, singing to Muppets about Indigenous languages, cultures, and so much more. She becomes the first woman to breastfeed on TV and the first Indigenous person to take home an Oscar. But as she makes giant strides for visibility, there are powerful forces trying to make her disappear.
Episode 5: Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee
Buffy's free in Hawaii. It's been 16 years since her last record and she's ready for a comeback. But she's determined to do things her way and in 1992 she records Coincidence and Likely Stories, the first album made over the internet. Like always, Buffy continues to carve out space for other Indigenous artists. An award she helps to create has a ripple effect around the world – ensuring a strong, Indigenous future for music.
Host: Falen Johnson
Producers: Falen Johnson, Zoe Tennant, Leah Simone-Bowen and Eunice Kim
Story Consultant: Yvette Nolan
Sound Design: Nigel Irwin and Mira Burt-Wintonick
Theme Music: Nigel Irwin
Artwork: Beyon Wren Moor
Digital Producer: Roshini Nair
Senior Producer: Tanya Springer
Special thanks to:
And Andrea Warner and Blair Stonechild for their biographies of Buffy