CARAS, the Canadian Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, has announced the 2017 recipient of the Allan Waters Humanitarian Award, and her name is … Buffy Sainte-Marie. The award, which will be presented in conjunction with the JUNO Awards in Ottawa this year, “recognizes an outstanding Canadian artist whose humanitarian contributions have positively enhanced the social fabric of Canada and/or whose impact can be felt worldwide.” It is named after the founder of the CHUM broadcast network, most notably Toronto radio station 1050 CHUM which launched in 1954. Waters committed the network to community and public service initiatives. The Allan Waters Humanitarian Award has been given out annually since 2006. Past winners in chronological order are Bruce Cockburn, Tom Jackson, Paul Brandt, Sarah McLachlan, Bryan Adams, Neil Young, Simple Plan, Tom Cochrane, Chantal Kreviazuk and Raine Maida, Rush, Arcade Fire, and now Buffy Sainte-Marie.
Buffy has had a long and successful career spanning half a century. She was chosen as a recipient this year, as it was felt she “exemplifies the essence of humanitarianism through her dedication to protecting indigenous communities and indigenous intellectual property, which have been at the epicentre of her lifelong activism”. Sainte-Marie was born on the Piapot Plains Cree First Nation Reserve in the Qu’Appelle Valley in Saskatchewan. In 1964, she became well-known for anti-war peace anthem “Universal Soldier,” which has been inducted into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame. In 1969, she founded The Nihewan Foundation for Native American Education. Her 1976 hit song “Starwalker”, which she dedicated to the American Indigenous Movement marked the first time Aboriginal and pop music were combined, and with Sainte-Marie dubbing it ‘powwow rock’ she created a new genre. She was a regular on children’s television series Sesame Street from 1975 to 1980. At the Bahá’í World Congress in New York 1992, Buffy appeared in the musical event prelude.
Her list of awards is impressive. As noted by CARAS, in addition to an Academy Award (Best Original Song) for “Up Where We Belong,” “Sainte-Marie is also the recipient of four JUNO Awards, a Golden Globe, the Governor General’s Performing Arts Awards, a BAFTA Award, multiple Queen’s Jubilee Medals and Canadian Aboriginal Music Awards. She carries the Order of Canada and has been inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame, the Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame and Canada’s Walk of Fame.” Her songs have been covered by a slew of A-listers including Barbra Streisand, Neil Diamond, Elvis Presley, Glen Campbell, Céline Dion, Cher and Indigo Girls.
Sainte-Marie’s most recent album Power in the Blood (2015) won 2016 JUNO Awards for Aboriginal Album of the Year and Contemporary Roots Album of the Year. It also took the Polaris Music Prize.