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Blood of Chieftans

by Zettel 

Posted: 05 August 2009
Word Count: 463
Summary: Met a herione of mine this week. (Dr) Buffy Sainte Marie: native american activist, singer/songwriter - 'Universal Soldier' 'Up Where We Belong', 'Until It's Time For You To Go' etc.

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Buffy Sainte-Marie was an orphan, adopted out of her Cree tribe, raised in Maine where she was the only Indian. Re-adopted by her tribe she re-connected with her ethnic roots. Training to be a teacher she wrote songs one of which was the iconic Universal Soldier now known in virtually every country of the world. An indefatiguable campaigner for Indian rights she has poured most of the money from 150+ songs back into work for her people. She earned two degrees and a PhD in Fine Art. Her latest CD 'Running For The Drum' proves that her commitment, her talent and her passion for her people remains undimmed after 40 years. She lectures around the world on environmental issues especially the exploitation of Indian land for uranium - creating toxic conditions for the Indians who have title but are denied control of their now tiny lands.

This poem is a celebration of the life of a most remarkable multi-faceted, multi-talented woman - still going strong. Anyone who knows her work will recognise 3 lines in this poem that pick up on lines from her most influential songs.
(www.creative-native.com/)(www.cradleboard.org/) (www.nihewan.org/)

Blood Of Chieftains

the when-born child
only knew from where
her ancient roots
were torn
head and heartstrong she
survived in alien soil
same-sun warmed
but solitary choked
on stale and empty air
breathed by those
who tore her - wronged
from the earth spirit
of her ancestral line
who would call her back
back where she belonged

Heart and spirit once rejoined
the blood of chieftains flowed
genes of honour learned
of justice long denied
and indignation burned
at a nation’s genocide

Injustice does not shout
it whispers
why are you hurting me
She took this unheard pain
and threaded it with melody
hey Iktomi* – look, no look and see
how deep is your dishonour
in dishonouring me.

In all the intervening years
of heartbreak and delight
of private solitary tears
she challenged might with right
listen to the truth and see
our pain is profiting you
now out-waited and unheard
to you we have become
in this money-changers’ Eden
you have built
a silent people
children seen not heard
hair cut, clothes pressed - safe
in the pretty parlours
of a nation’s guilt

Poundmaker's spirit lives
as the warrior woman sings
of the peace that wisdom gives
of love and cherished land
of death and desolation
the half-life toxic shaman brings
With eloquently outstretched hand
she beckons - follow me
come understand my people
their medicine will set you free
from exploitation, self and greed
without this we will never
share this fragile earth
unless we can agree
there is another way to love her.

*(Iktomi - In Lakota stories, a spider-trickster spirit. Sometimes aptly used for the white man).

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Comments by other Members

James Graham at 20:05 on 08 August 2009  Report this post
Zettel, glad to see a new poem from you, especially one I can give such a wholehearted ‘Yes!’ to. Everything about this is inspiring, both the background story and the poem itself. At present I’m involved in a small way in a Canadian First Nations issue, an Amnesty International campaign on behalf of the Cree people of northern Alberta. More than 1,000 oil and gas installations have been built on their land, but after twenty years’ negotiations they have still not received any compensation. Canada is in many ways a good, worthy country - but this is a disgrace.

Buffy Sainte-Marie is wonderful - such excellence both as an artist and as a campaigner for justice. ‘Wolf Rider...she’s a history turner’. If only she could ‘turn’ even the Canadian authorities and the oil companies. But they inhabit their ‘money-changers’ Eden’.

There’s much in your poem that’s memorable - the way you capture the struggle of the ‘when-born’ child to discover and be confident in her identity; and some of the passion of her fight for recognition and justice. Many individual lines too, such as:

She took this unheard pain
and threaded it with melody

in the pretty parlours
of a nation’s guilt

I’ve enjoyed Canadian hospitality in a few ‘pretty parlours’ - and heard people talk very condescendingly about ‘Indians’. Not viciously, just dismissively - but that’s bad enough.

I’ve visited the Buffy web pages and listened to the tracks there. Thank you for this poem.


Zettel at 10:22 on 09 August 2009  Report this post

thanks for the comments. I'm not on commmission but Buffy's latest CD 'Running For The Drum' includes a 1 hour documentary dvd 'A Multi-media Life' as well as 13 new songs: as ever fighting on.



freynolds at 10:14 on 10 August 2009  Report this post
Hi Zettel,

Thank you for sharing your poem with us. I must admit that I had not heard of Buffy Sainte Marie but then, I grew up in France, where she was, I guess, less known. I have listened to the songs and read all I could about her, too.

I am aware of the issues around the rights of native Americans and this is something that I personally feel, deserves attention. It is, I think, wonderful of you to write a poem about such an incredible woman and adding your voice to her cause.

I have learnt something important today, thank you for sharing with us. I recently completed an essay in French on the subject of 'Can art help fight injustice?' and how I now wish I would have known about Buffy.

This is a wonderful poem and an admirable tribute to an extraordinary woman. Have you thought of submitting to Oonah at EDP? I know she is looking for strong voices and this certainly is.


SarahT at 00:06 on 11 August 2009  Report this post
Hi Zettel,

It's taken me a couple of days to respond to this poem because I wanted to give it due consideration. Having re-read it a couple of times, I think my initial worries, have vanished. I was concerned that the line about
back where she belonged

actually jarred, in spite of your good intentions behind it. Not being enough of a Buffy buff, I couldn't spot the other lines you added in although I did wonder whether some of the lines sat with your style of poetry and, if they didn't, was it because they were Buffy Sainte Marie's lines? I have deliberately not looked anything up so now, a couple of days later, I can't even spot the other lines I was wondering about.

So I'm left with only one other meaningful comment. At the end, you say

without this we will never
share this fragile earth
unless we can agree
there is another way to love her.

On each reading, I assumed that the 'her' of the last line was referring to Buffy Sainte Marie but I think I've finally sussed that you are referring to the earth with this. You may be entirely happy with the ambiguity but it did confuse me for a while.

Apart from that, there are some great lines. I particularly liked:

the half-life toxic shaman brings
With eloquently outstretched hand


Zettel at 02:03 on 11 August 2009  Report this post
Sarah and Fabienne

Thanks so much for your very kind comments.

I suppose it was a little unfair not to reference the links to song lines:

‘Back where she belonged’ echoes Buffy’s Oscar-winning song ‘Up Where We Belong’ the theme from the movie ‘An Officer And A Gentleman’

‘Don’t you know our pain is profiting you echoes perhaps her most anguished and powerful plea on behalf of her people ‘My Country ‘Tis Of Thy People You’re Dying’ which after all these years can still make me cry.

‘unless we can agree that there’s another way to love her’ echoes the last line of her song Soldier Blue scored for the 1970 movie of the same name. The storyline of SB debunks all the old myths of ‘savages’ ‘children’ etc with which a 20,000 year-old viable culture was virtually destroyed in about 200 years. The film ends with a controversial graphic illustration of an actual historical massacre at Sand Creek in 1864 when 700 cavalry butchered 400 old Cheyenne and Arapaho men, women and children. The song haunts the film and its ending: when it asks ‘Soldier Blue, can’t you see that there’s another way to love her’ the ‘her’ it contrasts is the idea that the soldiers were doing what they thought to be their duty to the army and therefore ’their’ country with the thought that they might express love of ‘their’ country through the pursuit and defence of justice and the innocent.

The film was so truthful it became a victim of political pressure and was withdrawn from American screens within a month. It has been seen around the world but seldom in the US. Likewise when Buffy was in the 60s and 70s active in the Civil Rights and Anti-Vietnam war movements all her records were blacklisted on the radio by the Johnson administration. When she was lionised by the media after ‘Universal Soldier’ and ‘Until It’s Time For You To Go’ etc she was told that a condition of her appearing on national TV was that she must not talk about Indian issues.

Soldier Blue still resonates today I think with equal validity to GI’s in Iraq and Afghanistan. But it has a wider echo now when one reads ‘her’ as meaning the whole planet. It speaks not just to the soldier in war but echoes another of Buffy’ themes – the exploitation and destruction of the environment by big corporations especially the energy companies. When the Indians were herded into ever smaller reservations the land they were given was not fit for agriculture or farming. Then when uranium was found there the Indians were not allowed to prevent the mining, the toxic waste of which was left on site. James indicates that this is not just an ancient wrong “it’s still going on here today” as another of Buffy’s songs has it.

I ‘discovered’ this remarkable woman through her music: but that began a journey which has led to a sense of shame at what the Europeans, that’s us, did to these peoples and what our descendants, white America is still doing to them.

Sorry all a bit heavy but it is impossible not to learn these truths and hear them expressed in such songs, without getting angry.

You’ll find much of this the biographic DVD included in the just released Running For The Drum CD. The history is covered superbly in Dee Brown’s book still available ‘Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee’ (also the title of another of Buffy’s songs).

Fabienne – sorry but I don’t know who Oonah is or the EDP – excuse my ignorance.

Regards to you both and thanks again.


FelixBenson at 11:49 on 11 August 2009  Report this post
Hi Zettel

I just want to add my voice of this poem to those already expressed above...This is a sensitive piece and a fitting tribute to a remarkable woman. I've learned a lot about her from your peom and the posts above. Thanks very much for posting.

V`yonne at 15:47 on 11 August 2009  Report this post
Every Day Poets is down due to some server problem or other at the moment - but if anyone wants to send us poems - please persist! Our technogenie Steven is on the case!
PS I like this.

and since you don't know me -
go to oonahverse = www.oonahsblogspot.com
and read some of my stuff
or Bewildering Stories and look under authors or just look at my work on here.

Zettel at 23:42 on 12 August 2009  Report this post
Felix - thanks for the comment.

V'vonne -0 would be happy for this poem to go on EDP if you'd like it. Can't do anything until site is up again. I can't get into www.oonahsblogspot.com either so I'm a bit stuck.



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