Cree First Nation singer-songwriter Buffy Sainte-Marie, 74, is the 2015 winner of Canada's Polaris Music Prize, bestowed annually by a jury of music critics, bloggers, and broadcasters to one album deemed to have the most "artistic merit" regardless of genre, sales, or label.
Sainte-Marie's album Power in the Blood—her 21st—beat nine other finalists for the award, including rapper Drake, former Polaris winner Caribou, and Toronto rock band Alvvays. The Polaris prize comes with a $50,000 award.
"I've got an Academy Award and a Golden Globe, a couple of Junos and a Gemini Award—this is the only one I ever heard that gives the artist money," she said upon accepting the prize. "It's real important, it's becoming almost impossible for an artist to tour with a band and with instruments."
The artist developed her sound in Toronto and New York City's Greenwich Village as part of the early- to mid-1960s folk scene, often alongside other emerging Canadian contemporaries such as Leonard Cohen, Neil Young, and Joni Mitchell. Her songs have addressed everything from war and peace to Indigenous rights to the vapidity of show business.
"Ms. Sainte-Marie's album, which ranges in genre from blues to rockabilly, is the most overtly activist album to win in Polaris’s history," writes the Globe and Mail. "It includes songs such as 'The Uranium War' and modified versions of UB40’s 'Sing Our Own Song,' and Alabama 3’s 'Power in the Blood,' which chastise corporate greed and support the Idle No More movement."
Speaking of her "Sing Our Own Song" cover, Sainte-Marie told Macleans earlier this year:
Indigenous people throughout the world [are] speaking out and making small changes that the big headline folks aren’t aware of—until a little bit later. The input of Idle No More has been a lightning rod for people who were already thinking this way. We are reaching clarities on bigger issues like fracking and GMOs and climate change. Aboriginal people in—just name any country—are right on the edge of it. We are the ones that get fracked and we are the first ones who see it.
Watch Sainte-Marie talk about the evolution of her anti-war stance, before singing "Universal Soldier," her anti-war anthem which she says was written the basement of Toronto's Purple Onion coffee house in the early sixties:
And she spoke to Democracy Now! in May: