Acclaimed Indigenous Canadian-American-Cree artist, activist and pacifist, Buffy Sainte-Marie, is a fitting subject for a Celtic Story of Now portrait.
Buffy Saint-Marie makes an interesting subject in my series of story telling portraits, The Story of Now, because we have discovered this woman has been spinning very big tales. So big, Native Americans and fans of her music and activism will be grappling with it for some time, as I am.
I spent 17 hours researching and designing the knotwork before paint even met canvas. I watched documentaries and read articles for inspiration.
Celtic knots are spiritual. They emanate from Buffy’s own palm, spiralling out around her. Spirals generally represent growth, but in this case it seems to represent the big lie spiralling out, getting bigger and bigger as she sent it continually out into the world. Music notes from her songs, Dream Tree and Universal Soldier, hover the knot. Celtic Symbols of motherhood represent her one son, as much as her many creations.
The Piapot 75 Reserve Flag from Saskatchewan, Canada represents her birth story. She insists she was taken by around age three and adopted by an American family from Massachusetts. There is a birth certificate which proves this false.
The Celts connect the Dragonfly with the ability to see truth and ancient wisdom. To west coast indigenous cultures and most parts of the world, dragonflies mean change in the view of self-understanding and insight on the deeper meaning of life. I think I was compelled to add this into her story because she will need help.
The majestic and ethereal Hummingbird is small, travels great distances and even flies backward. To ancient Celts, they’re transcendent guides and oracles. When hummingbirds flutter their wings, they create figure eights, the symbol of infinity. This represents the continuity and ability to transcend that Buffy will need in order to face herself and those damaged by her lies.
The Red Hand is also rooted in Gaelic culture, dating to pagan times as a sign of a great warrior. In this painting, my red hand print indicates my own solidarity with missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls in North America. Native American women are 10 times more likely to be murdered or assaulted.
Buffy is a Pisces. I had believed dolphins represented her best as they symbolize help, guidance, intelligence, fun, joyfulness, freedom and teamwork. They live peacefully in every ocean on Earth as well as some rivers, making them subjects in mythology and folklore worldwide, as Buffy Saint Marie has. Hmmmm.
The red symbol at the top marries an ancient icon for womanhood and fertility with the present biohazard logo. Women worldwide suffer from toxic masculinity; too many aren’t permitted an education, a vote, or freedom. Buffy is creatively fertile, educated and has been speaking for the underrepresented. This symbol now has added meaning. I first created and used it in my portrait of Canada’s Prime Minister Trudeau, for his support of big oil and for ignoring climate change issues. Knowing the facts, in this painting, it means her fertile lies are toxic to the world.
I’ve designed in several Celtic knots which symbolize motherhood. Maybe something was shouting at me from the ether that there are a mother load of lies.
This painting represents part of the continuing story of Buffy Saint Marie – songwriter, trailblazer, tireless advocate, innovative artist, disruptor of the status quo and fabricator of lies. She’ll turned 83, February 20th (2024) and is going strong. I can’t wait to see what she has in store for us next. (Yes, I said that. LOL)
What was Buffy Working to Change?
Nihewan Foundation for Native American Education
the Cradleboard Teaching Project
Since the 1980s, Buffy Saint Marie started developing new ways of teaching core school subjects like science, geography and government through Indigenous perspectives. In the 1990s, with support from a few sponsors and foundations, her team created the Cradleboard Teaching Project. It served children and teachers worldwide for 15 years – free, live, and online – connecting Indigenous and non-Indigenous classes through the new core curriculum.
The ideas developed since have been shared with education departments, colleges and universities across Canada, fulfilling Buffy’s gut instinct to embed and improve education from within. She’s never taken a salary, and always kept the foundation operating costs under 15%.
She continually extends the Nihewan mission into her artistic, educational, and personal life.
What you can do…
Learn about Indigenous history
Colonial historical narratives have failed First Nations, Métis, and Inuit people for a long time. They don’t account for Indigenous experiences nor include Indigenous stories.
What is a Pretendian?
Why are there so many ‘pretend Indians’ these days? Anishinaabe author Drew Hayden Taylor investigates in a CBC Documentary. Link to article here.
Look for it on CBC Gem.