Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee

This week, Canadian schools observe Truth and Reconciliation Week, while tomorrow, September 30, our country will pause to mark the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation in our history.

The day comes after much introspection and examination of our country’s past and publicity through the year regarding the unmarked graves of thousands of First Nations, Inuit and Métis children who perished in what was known as the Indian Residential Schools system. From the 1870s to the 1990s, 150,000 children were forcibly removed from their families and held in institutions more akin to work camps than educational institutions.

Indigenous people continue to suffer the consequences of intergenerational trauma and systemic racism, both of which severely limit opportunities for fulfilling, healthy, happy lives.

A song that came to me as one to mark the day is “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee,” an epic work by Indigenous Canadian-American singer, songwriter, musician, composer, social activist, pacifist, and TV personality, Buffy Sainte-Marie.

The song is heart-wrenchingly authentic in portraying just some of the abuses Indigenous people have endured at the hands of greedy and corrupt governments and corporations who seek wealth at the expense of the planet and those relegated to remote communities, many of which have deplorable living conditions.

“Indian legislation on the desk of a do-right Congressman
Now, he don’t know much about the issue
so he picks up the phone and he asks advice from the
Senator out in Indian country
A darling of the energy companies who are
ripping off what’s left of the reservations. Huh.

I learned a safety rule
I don’t know who to thank
Don’t stand between the reservation and the
corporate bank
They send in federal tanks
It isn’t nice but it’s reality

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

They got these energy companies that want the land
and they’ve got churches by the dozen who want to
guide our hands
and sign Mother Earth over to pollution, war and
Get rich… get rich quick.

We got the federal marshals
We got the covert spies
We got the liars by the fire
We got the FBIs
They lie in court and get nailed
and still Peltier goes off to jail

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
Loo loo loo loo loo

We had the Goldrush Wars
Aw, didn’t we learn to crawl and still our history gets
written in a liar’s scrawl
They tell ‘ya “Honey, you can still be an Indian
d-d-down at the ‘Y’
on Saturday nights”

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

(“Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee,” by Buffy Sainte-Marie.
Official lyrics are available on Sainte-Marie’s website.

Throughout this year, Indigenous organizations and allies have suggested many options for people to learn about our country’s true history. One such opportunity is the University of Alberta’s online course, Indigenous Canada. It is an excellent place to start learning about past wrongs as a first step toward reconciling them.

“Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee” is the fourth song I’ve posted from Sainte-Marie’s 13th studio album, Coincidence and Likely Stories (1992). It also appears on the 1996 compilation, Up Where We Belong.

Now you know a little about why this is My Song of the Day for Today. Thanks for joining me here.

Here’s the audio for the song from the Buffy Sainte-Marie YouTube topic channel:

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