Buffy Sainte Marie: The Hidden Story of Uranium on Indian Land

Buffy Sainte Marie: Uranium, an interview and a photograph

by Brenda Norrell

This was first published by the Atlantic Free Press.

It is amazing what can happen when one finds and publishes a photograph from years ago. The photograph is of Buffy Sainte Marie singing at Dine’ College. It was taken the day I interviewed Buffy in 1999. She told me about being censored out of the music business by Lyndon Johnson because of her song “Universal Soldier” during the Vietnam War. She spoke of the personal hardship it brought, but also of what happened to others, including Anna Mae Aquash.

Buffy spoke of the occupation of Wounded Knee and the shoot-out with FBI agents at the Jumping Bull residence at Pine Ridge June 26, 1975.

“That is where Leonard Peltier’s troubles began,” Buffy said. Buffy said that few people recount the true history of what happened on that day in history.

“Who recalls that on that day one-eighth of the reservation was transferred in secret — on that day. It was the part containing uranium. That is what never seems to be remembered,” Buffy said.

The interview remained censored for seven years by Indian Country Today, where I served as a staff reporter for the majority of those years. When Buffy’s interview was finally published by ICT, one portion still remained censored.

It was the portion about Anna Mae Aquash’s death in relation to the fact that Pine Ridge was targeted for uranium mining at that time.

Tonight, I received an e-mail message pointing out that on June 26, 1975 Oglala Sioux Chairman and GOON squad leader Dickie Wilson was in Washington signing away one-eighth of Lakota land for uranium mining.

It was the same day that two young FBI agents were sent into the Jumping Bull camp. It is the reason that Leonard Peltier has spent his life in prison.

So, tonight I searched for more about the uranium mining that Pine Ridge was targeted for. The e-mail came from Jack Cohen-Joppa at Nuclear Resister.

“Thanks for posting your interview with Buffy Sainte Marie. I was taken by this comment of hers, particularly: ‘Who recalls that on that day one-eighth of the reservation was transferred in secret — on that day. It was the part containing uranium. That is what never seems to be remembered.’ It is my recollection of this fact (learned from reading Akwesasne Notes and Rex Weyler’s writing about Peltier, I think) that led us to include Leonard Peltier on the Nuclear Resister’s ‘Inside & Out’ list for nearly the entire time we’ve been publishing (since issue #3, March 1981.) We wrote ‘… On that same day, June 26, 1975, Pine Ridge Tribal Chairman Dickie Wilson was in Washington DC, illegally signing away one-eighth of the reservation’s lands to the Department of Interior. There is uranium on this land…’” http://nuclearresister.org/

On the web, the John Graham website states:

” .. the US had an eye on developing uranium mining on a portion of the sacred Black Hills, an area known as Sheep Mountain. This area has proven to be one of the richest in uranium deposits in the US. The FBI implemented their counterintellegence operation in Pine Ridge, in order to weaken and destroy the urban Indian movement, and to subjugate the traditional Lakotas for once and for all.”

Posted on Russell Means’ Lakotah Republic website:

“In 1975, with his control of the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota secured by force, Tribal President Wilson set about ceding uranium-rich areas of the sacred Black Hills to the federal government. AIM assisted in protecting Pine Ridge’s traditional families from the constant onslaught of violence, which culminated in the AIM occupation and government siege of Wounded Knee in the Spring of 1973. From 1973 to 1976, the people of Pine Ridge lived under the ‘Reign of Terror’­more than 76 Natives, mainly traditional Lakotah and AIM members, were murdered, primarily by Wilson’s goons, a term coined by the elderly women who protested against them. Later, in a perverse play on words, the goons called themselves, ‘Guardians of the Oglala Nation’ (GOONs).”

Then, I remembered being at Sheep Mountain. We climbed and watched for helicopters in the night, as Lakotas protected the remains of the Ghost Dancers at the Stronghold in 2002. In the dark night, the sky filled with lightning and thunder. All Creation was there at that moment.

Buffy’s lyrics:

“My girlfriend Annie Mae talked about uranium
Her head was filled with bullets and her body dumped
The FBI cut off her hands and told us she’d died of Exposure…
“Bury my heart at Wounded Knee
Deep in the Earth
Cover me with pretty lies
bury my heart at Wounded Knee.”

Finally, I do not know who killed Anna Mae Aquash. But I do know that two separate groups of witnesses, all local Lakotas on Pine Ridge, said they were there when it happened at Oglala. Many never came forward out of fear. But they do identify the same person as the killer. That person is not any of the men, including Arlo Looking Cloud now in prison for this crime, who have been charged.

Lakota lands and Indian country are once again targeted for uranium mining. Buffy has just released a new CD, “Running for the Drum.”

WWII tests exposed Lakotas in Badlands during genocidal studies using uranium In situ leach uranium mining is the new form of genocide in Indian country: http://www.rense.com/general84/occd.htm


Uncensored Interview: The following interview with Buffy Sainte Marie, detailing how she was censored and put out of business, was censored after it was written in 1999. A portion of it was published in 2006, but much of it, including the references to uranium, have never been published until now.

Beyond images of women and Indians: Straight-talk from a Cree icon

By Brenda Norrell (1999)

TSAILE, Ariz. — Seated behind the concert stage at
Dine’ College, Buffy Sainte-Marie is visionary and
philosopher, folk star and educator, mother and
confidant to truth-seekers. A voice of history and
reason, the Cree poet and songwriter describes life on
the rim, beyond the defined images of women and

Relaxing after her performance onstage, Buffy says she
always refused to be categorized as an
aerobic-Indian-princess-Pocahontas. The result: She
was blacklisted, and along with her Indian
contemporaries, put out of business.

“I found out ten years later, in the 1980s, that
Lyndon Johnson had been writing letters on White House
stationary praising radio stations for suppressing my

Buffy, however, is focused on art, not bitterness, and
explains that in Indian communities, there is no name
for artists.

“In my own language, there is no word for art.”

Instead, they say, “It shines through him.” That, she
says is the mystery — the artist is a vehicle for the

Backstage, Buffy takes chalk in hand, detailing how
the 1960s and 1970s — the student movement and
American Indian Movement — were the roots of change.

In the 1960s in Minneapolis, “The guys were in the
streets. The guys who would become AIM.” In Boston,
and elsewhere in the East there was no awareness of
Indian people.

“I grew up in Maine and Massachusetts, and I was told
that I couldn’t be Indian because all the Indians were
gone,” Buffy said.

“So, in other words, the consciousness was Zero.” But
there were inklings in the white world, like in the
National Indian Youth Council and the Upward Bound
program recruiting Indian students for college, that
there was a need for change.

“In the Indian community, in Saskatchewan where I am
from, the Indian people were real grass-rootsy and
they had no clue of how they were being ripped off. In
the grassroots in general, people were being worked
over by the oil companies.”

The student movement and coffeehouses of Greenwich
became her platform in the 1960s. In the
multi-racial movement, students were talking and
students were listening.

“The student movement was extremely important. It’s
not happening right now, but it was then and it was a
small window through which people like myself came
into show business.”

“Coffee was the drug of choice.” And the lyrics and
the movement were serious.

“It meant that people like myself could get on a bus,
in sneakers and a trench coat with a guitar, and fill
concert halls.”

In the late 1960s, coffeehouses were suddenly viewed
as moneymakers. “In show business, whatever is making
money is like honey — and it attracted a lot of bugs
– a lot of sharks.”

The lyrics were watered down and coffeehouses that
remained open had liquor licenses.

“In the 1970s, not only was the protest movement put
out of business, but the Native American movement was

Meanwhile, Buffy cut a singular path. “I usually
didn’t do what other people did. You didn’t find me at
peace marches. I was out in Indian country.”

Then, came the occupation of Wounded Knee and the
shoot-out with FBI agents at the Jumping Bull
residence at Pine Ridge June 26, 1975. “That is where
Leonard Peltier’s troubles began” Buffy says.

Buffy says that few people recount the true history of
what happened on that day in history.

“Who recalls that on that day one-eighth of the
reservation was transferred in secret — on that day.
It was the part containing uranium. That is what never
seems to be remembered.”

At the time, Buffy was selling more records than ever
in Canada and Asia. But, in the United States, her
records were disappearing. Thousands of people at
concerts wanted records. Although the distributor said
the records had been shipped, no one seemed to know
where they were. One thing was for sure, they were not
on record shelves.

“I was put out of business in the United States.”

Later she discovered the censorship and pressure
applied to radio stations by President Lyndon Johnson
during the Vietnam era, particularly toward her
“Universal Soldier” during the anti-war movement.

Buffy says Indian people were put out of business, not
just because they were succeeding in Indian country,
but because they were succeeding in the broader
community. She and others were a threat to the
moneymakers of concert halls, uranium and oil.

Then, fellow activist and poet John Trudell’s wife and
children were burned to death in a house fire shortly
after he burned an American flag in Washington D.C.,
February 11, 1979.

“I was just one person put out of business. John
Trudell is just another person whose life was put out
of business. Anna Mae Aquash and Leonard Peltier were
put out of the living business — we were made

But she continued. Moving into electronic music, which
she says Americans didn’t want to hear, then into
music scoring. In the 1980s, she began producing
digital art on her Macintosh at home. Those
brightly-colored large-scale paintings are now
featured in museums.

“Sixteen million colors are hard to resist,” she says
of the computer’s palette.

In the 1990s, she created the Cradleboard Teaching
Project to link American Indian students with other
students online around the world. Traveling now to
Indian communities and colleges, the project debunks
stereotypes and shares history and culture by way of

Sharing the concert stage at Dine’ College with
Trudell, Buffy says she and Trudell were “just
puppies,” during the takeover of Alcatraz in the
1960s. Yet, they kept struggling; kept surviving.

“We just kept chugging on. We kept coming to Indian
country. We didn’t worry about the fortune and fame
because we went with our sincerity, our hearts, and
with our friends.”

There was the pain of seeing people hurt, but the
movers of the ’60s and ’70s survived, developed,
taught, and shared with old friends the joys of
watching children and Indian country grow.

“It was hard — seeing people hurt,” she says. And
there was the pain of seeing women and the elderly
treated with lack of respect. But, people began to
sobber up and change. Her “Starwalker” is a tribute.

“Starwalker is for all generations past and yet to
come. So many people have seen the reality of that in
their lives,” she says, adding that the song is one of
her favorites.


“Starwalker he’s a friend of mine
You’ve seen him looking fine he’s a
straight talker
he’s a Starwalker don’t drink no wine
ay way hey o heya

Wolf Rider she’s a friend of yours
You’ve seen her opening doors
She’s a history turner
she’s a sweetgrass burner and a
dog soldier
ay hey way hey way heya”

Although Buffy makes her home in Hawaii, much of her
time is spent in Canada and on the road. Fame,
however, has it drawbacks, making it impossible to
simply attend a pow wow. “Sesame Street put an end to

Buffy said Native people in Canada are doing well in
all walks of life, the government, television and law.
“It’s not like it is in the United States.”

What has happened in Canada? Canada attracted a
different type of European. “People didn’t want to put
up with the U.S. gobbily-greed.”

Then, she adds, “Native people were hipper. Things are
still very pure, but very strong in Canada.”

Questioned about the media, Buffy says if you want to
find out the motive behind a newspaper’s coverage,
look to see who owns the paper. She was asked by a
Native photographer why only negative articles are
published in a leading Arizona paper.

“Find out who owns it,” she says, explaining that this
fact will reveal the motive.

Then, she adds, “Don’t let the bastards get you down.”
Buffy was born on the Piapot Cree Reserve in
Saskatchewan in 1941. Later, while evolving as a revolutionary
folk-singer, she received degrees in Oriental
Philosophy and teaching, and a Ph.D. in Fine Art from
the University of Massachusetts.

A young Bob Dylan heard her sing in Greenwich Village
and recommended she perform at the Gaslight, another
hangout of the avant-garde. Janis Joplin and Elvis
Presley were among those who recorded her lyrics.
On the road, she traveled the world and received a
medal from Queen Elizabeth II.

Shifting gears as a mother, Buffy and her son Dakota
Wolfchild Starblanket became stars of Sesame Street in
1976 and dissolved myths about who Indians are. “Up
Where We Belong,” recorded for the film “An Officer
and A Gentleman,” won an Academy Award in 1982.

After the release of her album “Coincidence and Likely
Stories,” in 1993, she helped establish a new Juno
Awards category for Aboriginal Music in Canada. That
same year, France named Buffy “Best International
Artist of 1993.”

Defying definition, she has also written country
music, including “He’s an Indian Cowboy in the Rodeo.”
She  served as an adjunct professor in Canada and New
, and as an artist in residence at the Institute
of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe.

Onstage at the Native American Music Festival at Dine’
College, a benefit concert for the Dine’ Council of
Arts and Humanities, Buffy sang selections from her
1996 release, “Up Where We Belong.”

Festival organizer Ferlin Clark recalled driving Buffy
through Apache country to share her Cradleboard
Teaching Project, then convincing her to drive until
dawn to reach the Navajo’s Canyon de Chelly. Once at
Spider Rock, Buffy reached for a pen and paper to
write. Inspired, she knew she would return.

In concert, Buffy dedicated “Bury My Heart At Wounded
Knee,” to Leonard Peltier.

The lyrics tell the story of Native people of the
1880s and later in the 1960s and 1970s, that fell to
the hands of the “robber barons” driven by greed for
oil, gold and precious metals. While manipulating the
media and politicians, they added uranium to their
agenda in the Twentieth Century.

In the song, Buffy sings of a senator in Indian
country, a “darling of the energy companies,” and
covert spies, liars, federal marshals and FBI.

Buffy sings her safety rule: “Don’t stand between the
reservation and the corporate bank. They send in
federal tanks…”

The song is a also tribute to assassinated activist
Anna Mae Aquash, whose murderers remain at large. The
lyrics describe the act of the FBI in cutting off her
decomposed hands under the guise of identification.

“My girlfriend Annie Mae talked about uranium
Her head was filled with bullets and her body dumped
The FBI cut off her hands and told us she’d died of

Bury my heart at Wounded Knee
Deep in the Earth
Cover me with pretty lies
bury my heart at Wounded Knee.”

* * * * * * * * *

Buffy Sainte-Marie singing  “Universal Soldier”, the song that resulted in the US censoring her and putting her out of business

Buffy Sainte-Marie singing “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee” in concert:


Buffy Sainte-Marie’s “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee” in studio recording:


Indigo Girls singing “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee”:


Buffy Sainte-Marie singing “My Country Tis of Thy People You’re Dying:


Notes on the Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee lyrics : http://aboriginalrights.suite101.com/article.cfm/buffy_sainte_marie_lyrics


Posted on September 14, 2009, in Anti-Police, Ecological Struggles, Indigenous Struggles and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off on Buffy Sainte Marie: The Hidden Story of Uranium on Indian Land.

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