Jacqueline Stewart 0:00
This year, obviously people are talking about the Will Smith slap, and they have been referring back to your speech.
Sacheen Littlefeather 0:09
Well, I have one thing to say about that. I didn't do it. [Jacqueline and Sacheen laugh]
Jacqueline Stewart 0:21
Glad you made that clear.
Sacheen Littlefeather 0:22
Jacqueline Stewart 0:24
This is Sacheen Littlefeather, whose appearance at the 1973 Academy Awards on behalf of Marlon Brando recently went viral in reaction to Will Smith slapping Chris Rock at the 2022 Academy Award Ceremony.
Jacqueline Stewart 0:38
[to Sacheen] But there was a threat of violence that you faced that evening, and I wonder if you're open to talking about that.
Sacheen Littlefeather 0:48
Backstage behind me, John Wayne was very incensed. He attempted to assault me on stage. He had to be restrained by six security men, in order to prevent him from doing exactly that.
Jacqueline Stewart 1:10
There is no footage of John Wayne, the Hollywood actor famous for playing cowboys, reacting to Sacheen's speech, but several people, including the director of that evening's awards, have confirmed these accounts. That night, Marlon Brando was nominated for Best Actor for his role as Don Corleone in The Godfather. He had asked Sacheen to attend the ceremony in his place, and if he won, to refuse the award on his behalf.
Academy Awards Announcer 1:37
[Academy Awards soundbite] [music and applause] Accepting the award for Marlon Brando in The Godfather, Miss Sacheen Littlefeather.
Jacqueline Stewart 1:44
Before Sacheen went on stage that night, the producer of the ceremony told her that she would be arrested if she did not keep her speech to under a minute, the standard speech time.
Sacheen Littlefeather 1:54
I knew I had to do everything in 60 seconds or less. I saw the police officers waiting in the wings to take me in handcuffs off the stage.
Jacqueline Stewart 2:07
Here is the speech that made John Wayne so angry that he needed to be restrained from charging the stage.
Sacheen Littlefeather 2:13
[Academy Awards soundbite] Hello. My name is Sacheen Littlefeather. I'm Apache and I am President of the National Native American Affirmative Image Committee. I'm representing Marlon Brando this evening. He very regretfully cannot accept this very generous award. And the reasons for this being are the treatment of American Indians today by the film industry- [sounds of discomfort from audience] Excuse me. [clapping and booing from audience] And on television, in movie reruns, and also with recent happenings at Wounded Knee. I beg at this time, that I have not intruded upon this evening, and that we will in the future, our hearts and our understandings, will meet with love and generosity. Thank you on behalf of Marlon Brando. [audience claps]
Sacheen Littlefeather 3:19
I carried myself as a dignified Indian woman would carry herself. I spoke with courage, with dignity, with honor. I did not use my fist. I did not use profanity, and I did not use a loud and egregious voice. I spoke from my heart because the heart and the heartbeat is the voice of all Indigenous people everywhere. And that is exactly what happened in 60 seconds or less.
Jacqueline Stewart 3:51
[theme music] In this week's episode, we are going to tell the behind the scenes story of Sacheen's speech, and break down the political and cultural forces at play that led to that moment. And later in the episode, we'll hear from singer-songwriter and the first Indigenous person to win an Oscar, Buffy Sainte-Marie. She tells us about her reaction to Sacheen's speech, as well as what she believes the Academy's role should be in relation to social justice movements. [music out]
Jacqueline Stewart 4:35
In 1973, Sacheen Littlefeather was both an activist and an actress. She says what inspired her to begin acting, in part, was the fact that her father was deaf.
Sacheen Littlefeather 4:46
I couldn't communicate with him in sign language like my mother did. So I had to communicate through other ways, and basically had to act out for him, the messages.
Jacqueline Stewart 5:01
So you you were performing out of a kind of necessity, family necessity.
Sacheen Littlefeather 5:06
Yes, absolutely. And when I was in grade school, I got to play several parts in several different plays, and enjoyed the experience. Of course, there was a lot of racial, you know, prejudice back then as well. We were called the N word in grade school. And when I went to visit Mississippi, Alabama, and the Southern states, I was made to drink out of the Black drinking faucet and use the Black bathrooms. And I felt, heard, saw, and knew that there were great injustices going on, not only as an Indian person, but with all people of color.
Jacqueline Stewart 6:00
Were you thinking that acting could be a way that you could make a difference in terms of these issues?
Sacheen Littlefeather 6:08
I think in terms of acting, I felt that there should be Native people, Black people, Asian people, Chicano people. I felt that there should be an inclusion of everyone, a rainbow of people that should be involved in creating their own image.
Jacqueline Stewart 6:33
I want to ask you about some of the ways that you, you know, encountered images of Indigenous people on screen. I mean, did you have strong feelings about the Western when you were growing up? Did you immediately see this as a problem?
Sacheen Littlefeather 6:50
I think that everybody who saw Westerns, who was Native, wanted to be a cowboy. I think that there is a desire to be identifying with the winner, you know, who wants to identify with the loser? Well, I saw Native people as being stereotyped. There was a Hollywood Indian, the movie Indian, and then the real Indian. There were two Indians, one that was not real, and one that was real. And I knew the one that was real, that had nothing to do with the screen Indian, with the Hollywood, Indian. And under the domination of that stereotype, we couldn't get jobs in the industry and represent ourselves as we really are. There was job discrimination, and the movie industry basically looked like a Clorox factory. I mean, it was so white. It was ridiculous.
Jacqueline Stewart 8:01
What sorts of opportunities were there for you when you were starting your acting career?
Sacheen Littlefeather 8:05
Well, very few. Except I got a few jobs with Italian film crews because in those days, I was considered exotic, and that meant that you didn't get employment very often, because you were too exotic for mainstream. You heard that rather than, We won't hire you because you're a person of color. [Jacqueline: Mmm.] No matter what your credentials were, no matter how good you were, period. Especially in ads, in advertising. You didn't use a bar soap. You didn't use laundry detergent. You didn't drink Coca Cola. We were just non-existent. And no one ever questioned that. I questioned it. I questioned it when I refused the Academy Award for Marlon Brando in 1973.
Jacqueline Stewart 9:08
I want to talk a lot about what happened that night, but I think part of the important context is your work as an activist and your interests as an activist. You had participated in the Alcatraz occupation and you brought awareness to what was happening at Wounded Knee, the occupation there. And it would be really helpful, I think, to hear you talk about what that moment was like in the early 1970s. In terms of Native struggle, and organizing.
Sacheen Littlefeather 9:38
Many Native Americans have parents who went to American Indian boarding schools, whether they were run by the government or run by the churches, because the churches were instrumental in grabbing Indian land from Indians and keeping that land for themselves. And this is a way that making child napping legal was taking children away at the age of four and five from the parents, and keeping them in boarding schools.
Jacqueline Stewart 10:19
In the US, there were over 400 boarding schools operating from the late 1800s up until as recently as the 1960s with the express intention to assimilate Indigenous children, by removing them from their families.
Sacheen Littlefeather 10:34
Keep the child, but destroy everything about the Indian, destroy everything about the culture, destroy the language, destroy the Native American spiritual belief system, and turn the Native American into a dominant society person with dominant society values.
Jacqueline Stewart 10:53
So in the late 60s, in the early 1970s, was there a particular way in which folks were coming to consciousness that they were organizing in a way that was especially important at that time?
Sacheen Littlefeather 11:09
There was the American Indian Movement and its followers, and they were the ones that were Wounded Knee in South Dakota.
Jacqueline Stewart 11:19
The American Indian Movement was a militant civil rights group similar to the Black Panthers or MEChA, that was raising consciousness and fighting for Indigenous issues. A month before Sacheen's appearance at the Academy Awards, members of the American Indian Movement, along with 200 Oglala Lakota activists seized control of the small town of Wounded Knee, South Dakota, taking citizens hostage, and demanded the US government make good on treaties respecting Indigenous land ownership. The American Indian Movement wanted to bring attention to the broken promises of the US government and the impoverished living conditions Indigenous peoples were forced to endure. Here's Russell Means one of the leaders of the occupation, talking about those conditions from Wounded Knee at the time.
Russell Means 12:07
[audio clip from Wounded Knee] We are suffering starvation, hunger, inadequate shelter, inadequate warmth, inclement type weather.
Sacheen Littlefeather 12:15
There was a great injustice there, the way that Native American Indian people were treated. And so the American Indian Movement came there.
Jacqueline Stewart 12:25
Within hours of the occupation, police had surrounded the town.
Sacheen Littlefeather 12:30
And as a result, the FBI came in and there was a media blackout at Wounded Knee.
Jacqueline Stewart 12:39
Federal officials were blocking press from speaking to the Indigenous activists as part of their military tactic to squash the occupation.
Sacheen Littlefeather 12:48
Now when I came up on the podium to represent Marlon Brando, I mentioned in my speech, Wounded Knee. [theme music] [music out]
Jacqueline Stewart 13:06
[original music] Let's talk about how you um, sort of arrived at that moment of going on stage and giving this speech. When did you meet Marlon Brando? How did how did you connect with him? And how did this plan develop that you would stand in for him at the Academy Awards? [music out]
Sacheen Littlefeather 13:37
I lived in San Francisco, not far from Francis Ford Coppola.
Jacqueline Stewart 13:42
Francis Ford Coppola is of course, the director of The Godfather trilogy.
Sacheen Littlefeather 13:47
And I used to walk the hills of San Francisco, which is quite a feat because they're very steep. But that was my exercise. And I used to walk by Francis Ford Coppola's house every day. And he used to sit out on his porch. I had read many articles about Marlon Brando being interested in Native American Indian people. But I had wondered if Marlon Brando was very sincere in his interest in Native American Indian people, or was he just studying up for a film role? [original music] So I wrote a letter to him, but I didn't know where to send it. And it was a very sincere letter. And I knew that Francis Ford Coppola had directed him in The Godfather. So I asked Francis Ford Coppola, when I was walking by one day. As an attractive young woman, I called out to him and I said, Hello! And I introduced myself and he asked me to come up on his porch and I did and I began a conversation with him. And eventually I told him I had this letter for Marlon Brando. And I said but I don't know where to send it. So he helped me to send that letter. I waited a year. I was working at the radio station, KFRC. Finally, one day, a year later, at the radio station, I got this very mysterious call. So they put the call through and he said to me, in his voices that he had, Oh, I bet you don't know who this is. And I said, Sure I do. And he said, Well, who is it? And I said, it's Marlon Brando. [Jacqueline laughs] And he, he laughed, and I said, Well you sure beat Indian time all to hell, I told him. [Jacqueline laughs] And he laughed again and we laughed and we just talked like we were old friends about everything that was Native, if he was playing a part of a Native or if he was really interested in Native American Indian people. And we had a great conversation. And from then on, we just became phone buddies. He used to call me at home. And then I would fly down and spend time with he and his family as a houseguest. And uh, I just knew him as a human being. I was interested in him as a fellow activist, and also as just a person, period.
Jacqueline Stewart 16:50
It sounds like you got to a place where you did feel that he was sincere in the interest that he was showing.
Sacheen Littlefeather 16:55
Absolutely. Yes, I did.
Jacqueline Stewart 16:58
So when did he start to talk to you about the plan? The possibility that you would accept the Oscar on his behalf if he were to win, and he was clearly a front runner for winning the Academy Award that year.
Sacheen Littlefeather 17:12
So he called me on a Saturday and the Academy Awards was the next day. That's how fast it happened. And he swore me to secrecy, not to tell anybody, which I did not. And I flew down to his house. And I asked him about my wardrobe 'cause I really didn't have anything to wear except for my powow dress, a Northern style buckskin dress, and moccasins and hair ties. So you could say basically, he chose my wardrobe for me, because he did. I didn't have any evening gown or evening wear. And uh, I went down to his house and he was very busy. His and his secretary typing up this acceptance speech, should he win. And I was kept basically in the dark. So it was really late in the day when his secretary gave me this long speech to read.
Jacqueline Stewart 18:25
Like eight pages, right?
Sacheen Littlefeather 18:27
Eight Yeah. Mmm hmm.
Sacheen Littlefeather 18:29
And so I, I said to myself, Wow, this is pretty long. I, I don't think I could do this. And when I got to the Academy Awards, Howard Koch, who was the producer of the Academy Award show itself, said to me, If you read that speech, or go over 60 seconds, I'm going to have you arrested.
Jacqueline Stewart 18:58
That's when Sacheen knew that she would have to improvise and not read off of the statement Marlon Brando and his secretary had written.
Sacheen Littlefeather 19:06
And his name was called as Best Actor. And so I knew what I had to do and I was praying beforehand, the whole time [Jacqueline: Mmm.] for the strength and the courage to do what I needed to do. [original music] And my ancestors were with me.
Jacqueline Stewart 19:33
50 million people were watching the broadcast that night. The immediate reaction in the room was mixed. As we noted, John Wayne was furious, and people reacted with a mixture of booing and applause. According to Sacheen, there were consequences.
Jacqueline Stewart 19:49
[to Sacheen] You have said that after giving your speech that you were red listed. And could you talk about what you mean by that, what that meant in terms of your career. [music out]
Sacheen Littlefeather 20:00
Well, [laughing] in the industry, the FBI, I found out, went around to studios. I have a friend who was with a particular studio and she told me, Sacheen, the FBI were just here. And they told us that if we would ever hire you, they would shut us down, shut our production down. So there were lies that were printed about me in the press, there were lies going around about me altogether. Said I rented my buckskin dress, that I wasn't Indian. I was a Mexican actress, that it was all a publicity, stunt, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Jacqueline Stewart 20:47
But ultimately, Sacheen was not concerned about what Hollywood or the government thought about her or her speech.
Sacheen Littlefeather 20:55
People who sent me notes of congratulations were Coretta Scott King, the widow of Martin Luther King, and also Cesar Chavez. Also my own people, [original music] and others who counted in my life, who I admired, and I knew that I had done the right thing, irregardless of what other people had said or did to me. I knew I had done the right thing.
Jacqueline Stewart 21:35
Coming up, legendary folk singer songwriter, Buffy Sainte-Marie. [music out] [break]
Jacqueline Stewart 21:51
Buffy Sainte-Marie was the first Indigenous person to win an Oscar.
Olivia Newton-John 21:54
[Academy Awards soundbite] And the winner is... Aha! The winners are Jack Nitzsche, Buffy Sainte-Marie [applause begins] and Will Jennings for Up Where I Belong for An Officer and a Gentleman! [applause continues]
Jacqueline Stewart 22:05
She won for Best Original Song in 1983. She co-wrote Up Where We Belong for the movie An Officer and a Gentleman. It was performed by Joe Cocker and Jennifer Warnes. [clip of song]
Buffy Sainte-Marie 22:26
[Academy Awards soundbite] [applause] Thank you from me, too. Marty Elfand, Stuart Levine, Joe Cocker, Jennifer Warnes, Curt Sobel, my mom, my little boy, Cody, and most of all, my husband, Jack Nitzsche who gave me the chance to be a part of Officer and a Gentleman. Thank you very much. [applause]
Jacqueline Stewart 22:53
Buffy Sainte-Marie, [laughs] it's wonderful to see you always.
Buffy Sainte-Marie 22:56
Thanks, Jacqueline, you too! [laughs]
Jacqueline Stewart 22:57
In 1983, you became the first Indigenous person to win an Oscar. Could you talk about that experience? Did it really uh, strike you that you were making history at that moment when your name was called and you went up on stage?
Buffy Sainte-Marie 23:14
Oh, no! I never, [laughs] no. I never thought about that until recently, when people have been phrasing it like that. No. I guess I was the first Indigenous person to win an Oscar. And it was for Up Where We Belong from An Officer and a Gentleman. I wrote the melody for that. So when it came to be that we had been nominated, and we knew we were going to go to the Oscar ceremony, Oh! I had this pink sparkly sequined dress. I mean, it was so wonderful, but we didn't really expect to win. And then we did. [laughs] And it was just, it was just astounding.
Jacqueline Stewart 23:52
The previous time an Indigenous person was on the Academy Award stage was Sacheen Littlefeather 10 years earlier. Buffy had caught it on TV. At the time, she didn't know Sacheen personally.
Jacqueline Stewart 24:04
[to Buffy] What was your reaction to her speech?
Buffy Sainte-Marie 24:09
Well, of course, I knew Marlon. And this was 1973 for Pete's sakes. 1973, there was a war against Indigenous people in South Dakota. [laughs] Wounded Knee was going on. So what we had to deal with was a little bit different from everybody else in that studio audience or most of the people watching television. And I was very proud of Sacheen and I was totally surprised of course. And I was proud of Marlon too, because let me tell you how it is. Sometimes the American Indian Movement or some other group would invite a celebrity, you know, someone of the level of Jane Fonda or Marlon Brando, and they would show up all heart, you know, they would really, really want to help and all, [laughs] but what do you think the doggone media is gonna do? They're not there to see our issue. And we wind up with a great big story about our celebrity who was there to help the Indians. And the issue isn't even portrayed accurately, which kind of was the point. So for Sacheen to get up there in front of the whole wide world and to represent Marlon in that way, I thought, I thought it was great. But you know, there's a lot to say. We should probably give people kind of a feeling about how it was in Hollywood for Indigenous people, you know?
Jacqueline Stewart 25:27
Yeah, could you? Yeah, because she, that's the first thing she says. She talks about the treatment of the American Indian. Maybe you could help us to sort of get a sense of the picture that she was describing.
Buffy Sainte-Marie 25:39
Well, it's kind of where if you, if you look at movie history, I guess probably the first thing that you would come up with involving Indigenous people would be Thomas Edison. I mean, he made, he made one of the first movies and you know, they wanted colorful things and interesting things. [laughs] So we started showing up and and um, being portrayed by other people in the movies [laughs] right out of the gate.
Jacqueline Stewart 26:04
Two short Edison films made in the late 1800s, Buffalo Dance and Sioux Ghost Dance, featuring Sioux tribes members are considered to be the first instances of Indigenous peoples caught on film. From Robert Flaherty's Nanook of the North in 1922 to "educational" films from the mid-20th century, Indigenous communities have long been of interest to documentarians. But the films were almost never told from Indigenous points of view. The University of Arizona's American Indian Film Gallery includes nearly 500 documentaries. They feature narration that the project's archivist describe as condescending at best, and racist and inaccurate at worst. So Buffy was naturally skeptical of projects aimed to capture Indigenous history.
Buffy Sainte-Marie 26:53
But anyway, in 1967 or '68, I was invited to take a role in the Virginian.
Jacqueline Stewart 27:02
The Virginian was a television series set in late 1800s, Wyoming.
Buffy Sainte-Marie 27:06
And I was offered a role in an episode. But I said, if you want me, Buffy Sainte-Marie, who got hit records and is known as an Indigenous person to show up in your movie, what I want is real easy. All the Indigenous parts are to be played by Indigenous people. And of course, they said, Oh no, that uh, there was quite, I forget what the number was, 32 extras or something. And we've got some leading parts, too. They can't all be Indians! And I said, Well, then I'm not going to do it because I know they can. So,
Jacqueline Stewart 27:06
They were going to use makeup, [Buffy laughing] right? To make people look like Indians, huh?
Buffy Sainte-Marie 27:45
Yeah! Yeah! Yeah! They said, they said, don't worry about it. We've got Filipinos, we've got Italians, we've got Jews, we've got Koreans. And besides that, we've got makeup artists that can turn a dog into a cat. And my reaction to that [laughing] was, you know, it's more important than just fooling white people. We're giving you a gift here. We had so much to bring to the table and see, Marlon had been in Indian country. He knew that. He knew we weren't just one little, two little, three little Indians to be exploited when somebody needed something in feathers to act like a villain or a victim. He knew. So we appreciated Marlon. So Sacheen, you know, she looked so beautiful! She was wearing her traditional clothes. And yet we were all quite, you know, any anybody that I've ever talked to about that evening, you know, we were all totally surprised, of course. But bravo to both of them, you know. They, they did something.
Jacqueline Stewart 28:45
And I was hoping that you could also talk about some of your activism during that period. Part of the Alcatraz occupation, for example, because that period is so critical in terms of the American Indian Movement. And uh, do you have some, you know, any reflections on the legacy of that movement today?
Buffy Sainte-Marie 29:06
Well, Alcatraz was very important at the time, and I still think that Alcatraz is important because Alcatraz was not done just by a bunch of people who were ticked off because [laughing] their rights were being denied. It wasn't that. There was a lot more to it than that. Um, the history of Alcatraz itself, I mean, Alcatraz should have come to Indigenous people. It should have come back to us when they were finished using it for what they were using it for at the time.
Jacqueline Stewart 29:31
Alcatraz sat on public land. And so when the infamous Alcatraz prison was shut down, and a development plan for a casino was announced, Indigenous activists decided to occupy the island and reclaim it. Buffy never lived on the island, but she helped bring clean drinking water to the occupiers.
Buffy Sainte-Marie 29:50
We wanted to turn it into cultural centers and you know um, we had uh, we had done our homework. When I mean we, I don't mean me particularly, but it was John Trudell and a lot of other people who are in the next world now who really did that work. But the reason why it was important, Alcatraz was one of many, many building complexes, you know, campuses, that were created on Indigenous land with the blessing of Indigenous people, with contracts. And when they were no longer going to be used for that specific purpose, they were supposed to come back to us. I mean, I wound up ducking bullets, uh and running, running through the woods in (___) Wisconsin, over this medical facility built on uh, Menominee land, and it was supposed to be returned to the people. I mean, it was built by the Catholic Church, with the agreement of the Menominee people, and then it was supposed to revert back to the tribe. And the local vigilantes were not having any of it, they wanted it for themselves, and they were shooting at us. So there were things going on before and after Alcatraz. Although I'm glad you bring it up, what kind of bothers me a little bit is that it's like every 25 years, there's an Indian uprising, and we get our names in the paper, and then everybody forgets about us. [laughs] Because you know, just the way of the world. In Canada, Indigenous people are quite prominently represented in just about any field or profession you can think of. I mean, you know, from, from, from television broadcasters and lawyers. There's a huge, huge mix of professions. And uh, there are a few people you know, in the Academy. There are a few Indigenous, I'm not the only Indigenous person in the Academy. There are other Indigenous people. But it's tricky right now, you know, with the Academy, because just our way of voting, you vote in your own field, like I only vote, I'm in the music branch. But so and I'm the only Indigenous person in the music branch. And you have to have two people in your branch to nominate somebody. And so although we have directors and producers and actors and actresses, and we have people in all in, you know, a lot of the professions, there are not two Indigenous people, in any profession, familiar enough with what the Indigenous talent scene is in film, to be able to properly bring those people forward. We have to discuss that. It is a lot of talented people.
Jacqueline Stewart 32:34
Structural issue that you're pointing to. You might have bigger numbers, but if people are isolated in their branches, then what's the impact that they can have?
Buffy Sainte-Marie 32:42
Yeah, yeah, yeah. Right.
Jacqueline Stewart 32:45
Do you think the Academy can or should have a stronger presence in terms of weighing in on social political issues? Activist work?
Buffy Sainte-Marie 32:55
Oh, gosh. That's, that's so hard. You know, I try very hard not to tell anybody else want to do. And when it comes to a question like that, I would, I would certainly be willing to be part of a discussion, but I do see many sides of many questions. I told you I was a philosophy major. [Buffy and Jacqueline laugh] So I can look at, I can look at things from six or 10 points of view at the same time and have fun with that. I don't know, the way I look at it, Jacqueline, is that there's a whole lot of good work left to be done in the world, including in the movie industry. And that's why we're here. Yeah? So I don't take your your question about, you know, whether the Academy ought to be doing more? Everybody ought to be doing more. Everybody's ripening and growing and understanding and learning at the same time. So just [laughs] if you ask for myself, I'm just gonna keep on producing good stuff. And if somebody sees it, great, and if they don't see it, not as great, but still great, because I'm a creative. The movie industry is one of the places that I've been allowed to, you know, do my little dances, you know, scoring movies, and being in things and encouraging people and just being involved with the Academy is, it's a great privilege. And we can make good change, and we should, and it shouldn't be a chore and it shouldn't hurt. It it shouldn't hurt. We can do this in joy. I mean, we're creative people, and we certainly have the resources.
Jacqueline Stewart 34:21
Yes, absolutely. Yes. I have one one more question for you.
Buffy Sainte-Marie 34:26
Jacqueline Stewart 34:27
I'm gonna take this, take a little step back. When you hear the term Indigenous representation, Buffy, what does that mean to you?
Buffy Sainte-Marie 34:35
Uhhh, I would have to s-, I would have to ask for details. [Jacqueline laughs] I'm not exactly sure what you're going at, but I'll take a stab at it. What I've gotten out of being a concert artist and you know, folk singer or songwriter, however you want to describe me, has been airplane tickets. And those airplane tickets not only have taken me to London and Paris and Hong Kong and Sydney, you know, but also to the Indigenous corners of the world where Michael Jackson and Madonna would not want to go, [laughing] and would not even be invited to go. It's just a different world. So the world of Indigenous people, whether you're talking about Indigenous people like M?oriís in New Zealand, or Aboriginal people in Australia, and all the different kinds of people in Africa, whether you're talking about the Sami people and the Indigenous people of Scandinavia, I mean, I've spent lots of time with other Indigenous people. So when I hear the word Indigenous, I, I don't just think of Canadian Indians, [laughing] or American Indians. I don't. I think about first, I know this is actual, and when you say the word Indigenous, first, my brain takes a trip from the Arctic Circle, all the way to, to the bottom of South America. All those different people, they're all Indigenous. And I've traveled enough in, in both the glamorous world of show business, but also a lot with Indigenous people. And I know, I know how it, I know how it is. And Indigenous people in the world, what we have in common, is a lot of really, really good stuff. Indigenous people had different systems. Indigenous people, sometimes still, but not as much as we wish, had languages that were quite different from the concept of languages that most people have. I mean, if you talk about Spanish, and Italian, and Portuguese, and French, all kind of related, and if you look at your hand, each one of those is like a finger. But an Indigenous language doesn't come from that part of exercising the brain. It doesn't come from there. It's like a thumb; it has a different function. And people who are interested in this subject will tell you that Indigenous languages are sometimes exercising a different part of the brain, coming up with different ways of thinking, different ideas. And when you think of the things that Indigenous people, just Indigenous people of the Americas, have given the rest of the world, you might say, Oh, they look different, or they have different music or different food, oh, boy. We can think differently. We have contributions that have yet to be made to the world, and people aught to start paying attention. It's not only survival stuff. It's all kinds of other stuff, artsy stuff, stories, ways of telling stories. I spent some time with an Indigenous woman from Mexico, who came from a small rural group, discovered the Spanish language, and fell in love with it, went to university and when she went home, she had the darndest time explaining to her friends what it was that she did, because in her language, there's no metaphor. So everything, the only thing you talk about is what is. Therefore there's no lying. [laughs] But she could not explain what poetry was. And she became a poet. So now she's a poet who's, who writes in her own language, for the first time ever, and in Spanish. So Indigenous people all over the world are of a page that most of you have not turned yet. [laughs] And it is exciting, like a library is exciting. It's about everything and we're about everything, including our stories and how we can portray them. It's a, it's all good, you know, it's just all good.
Jacqueline Stewart 38:23
Yeah. When you talk, the way you're describing [laughs] this incredible wealth of cultural heritage and thinking, think about that. And then you think about the tiny range of representations of Indigenous people on screen. I mean, the gap is uh, is staggering there, just how limited the representations have been.
Buffy Sainte-Marie 38:46
It's staggering you know, [original music] and um you know, there's, one way of looking at it would be to say poor us, we're not represented, but the other way of looking at it is poor you! You don't know what you're missing. [Buffy and Jacqueline laugh] So that's always the way I've thought about it.
Jacqueline Stewart 39:02
Well, thank you, Buffy. Thank you so much for these insights and your time.
Buffy Sainte-Marie 39:07
Thank you, too, Jacqueline.
Jacqueline Stewart 39:08
I always enjoy talking with you so much. Thank you. [music out]
Buffy Sainte-Marie 39:19
[sound clip of her song- My Country: 'Tis of Thy People You're Dying] Now that your big eyes are finally opened-- Now that you're wondering, How must they feel? Meaning them that you've chased cross America's movie screens? Now that you're wondering, How can it be real? That the ones you've called colorful, noble and proud, in your school propaganda-- They starve in their splendor-- You've asked for my comment, I simply will render-- My country 'tis of thy people you're dying...
Jacqueline Stewart 40:09
[theme music] The Academy Museum podcast is written and hosted by me, Jacqueline Stewart. This episode was produced by Antonia Cereijido. The Academy Museum podcast team includes Kimberly Stevens, Victoria Alejandro and Antonia Cereijido. The show is a production of the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures in collaboration with LAist Studios. Mixing and original music by E. Scott Kelly. Our theme music was composed by Nicolas Britell. Antonia Cereijido and Leo G are the Executive Producers for LAist Studios. Our podcast website LAist.com/podcast is designed by Andy Cheatwood, and the digital and marketing teams at LAist Studios. The Academy Museum marketing team created our branding. Thanks to the team at the Academy Museum, including Shawn Anderson, Peter Castro, Stephanie Sykes and Matt Youngner, and to our Academy colleagues Randy Haberkamp and Claire Lockhart. Thanks also to the team at LAist Studios including Taylor Coffman, Sabir Brara, Kristen Hayford, Kristen Muller, Andy Orozco, Michael Consentino and Leo G. Academy Museum digital engagement platforms, including this podcast, are sponsored by Bloomberg Philanthropies. Support for this podcast is made possible by Gordon and Dona Crawford, who believe that quality journalism makes Los Angeles a better place to live. This program is made possible in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a private corporation funded by the American people. [music out]