Ornette Coleman once said that “Sound is to people what the sun is to light.” Sound is foundational to the human and it enhances our other senses. For Indigenous communities in Canada, music can be a healing balm and it is essential to cultural, spiritual, and communal beliefs and daily practices. Like my previous Black Lives Matter playlist and my ENGL 125 playlist, I offer this playlist in relation to my ENGL 332 course focused on Indigenous literature and media with a particular focus on artists living on Turtle Island. Indigenous music unifies and celebrates, but it can also resist and serve as protest. I hope you enjoy the music and please do let me know if you have any musical recommendations to add.

CONTENTS

Week 1: Willie Dunn, “I Pity the Country” (1973) and Native North America
Week 2: Three Songs from Buffy-Sainte Marie

Week 1: Willie Dunn, “I Pity the Country” (1973) and Native North America

“I pity the country / I pity the state / And the mind of a man / Who thrives on hate”
—Willie Dunn

There is so much fantastic Indigenous music in Canada and we are in the midst of an Indigenous resurgence and renaissance in music, art, literature, and film. That said, Indigenous creators have been part of popular music since its early days even though much of the music has been forgotten by mainstream Canadians. A good example of this is the remarkable collection, Native North America (vol. 1) by Light in the Attic. The collections features music from the Indigenous peoples of Canada, recorded in the turbulent period between 1966 to 1985. The genres are far ranging, and the compilation showcases Indigenous folk, rock, and country. It is criminal that much of this music remained unheard to modern audiences and the music deserves more than preservation—it merits many repeated close listenings and appreciation. Given the current climate crises, and the need for social revolution around Indigenous issues in Canada, the music is essential and urgent. 

I’ve added a number of songs from the collection to the Spotify playlist, and I want to draw your attention to “I Pity the Country” by Mi’kmaq/Scottish/Irish Canadian artist Willie Dunn, which opens the collection. Writing for Pitchfork, Stephen M. Deusner describes the politics and personal verve of Dunn’s song: “The impression is one of forced isolation, as though society has stripped away every refuge that might comfort the singer – except music, that is. It’s a startling opener to the comp, especially since Dunn’s steadfast voice conveys resignation more than anger. He’s not fighting the system, but pitying the sad men who perpetuate their own unhappiness.” Have a listen to this song and the few others I’ve posted to the playlist, but I can’t recommend the entire collection enough. 

Week 2: Three Songs from Buffy-Sainte Marie

We are circling
Circling together
We are singing
Singing our heart song
This is family, this is unity
This is celebration, this is sacred.
—We Are Circling 

I’ve added three songs to the Spotify playlist from Indigenous folk trailblazer, Buffy Sainte-Marie. Sainte-Marie was a major part of the 1960’s Canadian folk and rock scene along with artists like Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell, and Neil Young. Her 1964 anti-war song “Universal Solider” gained her attention beyond the folk circuit. The other songs I’ve included are from her 2015 album, Power in the Blood. Sainte-Marie continues to reinvent herself and push her music in new directions, as evidenced on the anthemic title track, “Power in the Blood.” In the song, she tackles everything from the environmental crisis, biotechnology, and the perpetual drums of war. The other song, “We Are Circling,” is Sainte-Marie’s riffing on an “old hippy campfire song. It encapsulates [her] philosophy of Life: that we’re all ripening, all the time everywhere, and that’s good” (from her website). I had the chance to see Buffy-Sainte Marie in Nanaimo back in 2016 and urge you to do the same if you ever get the chance. Check out the video for “Power in the Blood” and head over to the playlist to hear the other two songs. 

Cover Photo: A Tribe Called Red by Falling Tree Photograph

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