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Detail weighs down Sainte-Marie bio

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BLAIR Stonechild is determined to put Buffy Sainte-Marie up where she belongs. Too bad the pedestal he builds has a few cracks.

The Regina-based writer a professor of indigenous studies at the First Nations University of Canada — bases his serviceable biography of the Canadian Cree singersongwriter on a series of first-person interviews he did with her and also with those who have been important in her life.

Stonechild also cites numerous newspaper and magazine articles and books.

Most of Stonechild’s sources are Sainte-Marie related, but some are historical in nature, encyclopedialike information about the places she has lived, from her birth in Craven, Sask., to her adopted childhood in Massachusetts to her coffeehouse days in New York’s Greenwich Village.

Historical context is important, especially when explaining treatment and attitudes towards aboriginal people, but It’s My Way actually suffers from a surplus of detail. Sure, Sainte-Marie now resides on the Hawaiian island of Kauai, but do we really need to know about British Capt. James Cook’s expedition to the region in 1778?

Not only is It’s My Way overly comprehensive, it’s repetitive and redundant, as redundant as following the word repetitive with redundant.

Stonechild must not have much faith in his readers’ memories, since he mentions and explains the same Sainte-Marie songs over and over again.

Flip to any page in the book and there’s a good chance you’ll see mention of Buffy’s 1964 Vietnam War protest song Universal Soldier. Never will you say to yourself, "Oh, Universal Soldier the song, because I thought you were talking about the Jean-Claude Van Damme film this time."

Nitpicking aside, Sainte-Marie, 71, is a deserving subject for a pop music biography. Her resumé is extremely impressive. In addition to penning and performing hit songs like C od’ine, Up Where We Belong and Until It’s Time for You to Go — songs covered by Janis Joplin, Joe Cocker and Elvis Presley respectively — Sainte-Marie is a pioneer in electronic music, digital art and even the Internet.

She was an early master of the Mac computer, and her 1992 album Coincidence and Likely Stories was transmitted via satellite from her home in Hawaii to a studio in London, making it the first album ever to be delivered via the web.

In addition to art, Sainte-Marie is a social activist, philanthropist and educator. In 1997, she developed the Cradleboard Teaching Project, a multimedia curriculum designed to teach students about Native American culture by connecting Indian and non-Indian children via an "electronic powwow."

Speaking of education, with a few edits and a little cleanup, It’s My Way could and should be mandatory reading in aboriginal studies courses. Sainte-Marie’s accomplishments are inspiring and immensely important to the continued advancement of indigenous peoples.


Jared Story is Winnipeg freelance writer and stand-up comedian.

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