IN 1963, a young Canadian singer-songwriter named Buffy Sainte-Marie was deeply moved by the sight of U.S. troops who were badly injured in Vietnam.
The resulting antiwar anthem, Universal Soldier, cemented the Saskatchewan-born musician's place in a 1960s protest movement fuelled by folksingers and rock musicians.
Fifty years later, Sainte-Marie stood on the steps of the Manitoba Legislative Building Monday to lend her support to Idle No More, creating a symbolic bridge between the idealism of the hippie era and the slightly more pragmatic contemporary fight for indigenous rights and environmental protection.
"This is not new. We've been trying to educate people for years, albeit without this solidarity," the 71-year-old singer-songwriter said shortly before a brief Monday-evening appearance in front of about 500 people gathered at the legislature steps.
Sainte-Marie spoke briefly at the Winnipeg edition of a nationwide series of Idle No More events that were billed as a day of action. But with the temperature hovering around -7 C -- balmy for southern Manitoba in January -- the demonstration took on a festive air in spite of the defiant tone of many of the speakers.
Winnipeg activist-comedian Ryan McMahon and author Beatrice Mosionier warned of the environmental degradation that could result from unfettered resource extraction -- one of the main concerns of the Idle No More movement, which was sparked by the federal budget-implementation legislation known as Bill C-45.
"Too many of you have forgotten that you can't eat money and you can't drink oil," said Mosionier, author of In Search of April Raintree. She concluded her speech by urging the crowd to vote in the next federal election.
Sainte-Marie, who said she, too, was upset by Bill C-45, did not engage in fiery rhetoric. Shortly before 6 p.m., she stood between the neo-classical columns at the front of the legislature and attempted to lead the crowd in the round-dance melody from Darling Don't Cry.
Drummers pounded out a 2/4 rhythm as Sainte-Marie's voice bounced off the stone walls and carried down the legislature steps to a Glow Stick-waving crowd comprised of Cree, Anishinabe, Métis and non-aboriginal participants, most of them Winnipeggers but also some who made the trek from the east-side Lake Winnipeg communities of Hollow Water First Nation and Bloodvein First Nation.
"It was exciting because her voice was reverberating off the building," said Winnipeg university student Jenna Vandal, the daughter of St. Boniface Coun. Dan Vandal. "It was great to have her here, because people wanted her to come down and be a part of this."
Scattered among Métis flags and placards decrying Prime Minister Stephen Harper were banners heralding the support of left-of-centre organizations such as the Social Planning Council of Winnipeg and the Winnipeg Labour Council. Manitoba Liberal Leader Jon Gerrard was also present -- to draw further attention to the planned closure of the Experimental Lakes Area in northwestern Ontario, he said.
Sainte-Marie said she was not worried by the potential co-optation of Idle No More by other political actors.
"It is what it is," she said. "I'm just happy the issues are out there."