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Pauly Denetclaw
Indian Country Today

One of the most successful Indigenous artists in the world, Buffy Saint-Marie, Cree, and renowned Onondaga Faithkeeper Oren Lyons were among those selected as the newest members of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences.

The Academy was founded in 1780 — the backdrop being the ongoing colonization and genocide of Indigenous people — by “John Adams, John Hancock, and 60 other scholar-patriots who understood that a new republic would require institutions able to gather knowledge and advance learning in service to the public good,” according to the website.

The members are described as people who discover and advance knowledge or those who apply that knowledge to address the issues of the world. There have been more than 13,500 members inducted since 1780. The Academy now includes International Honorary Members.

Buffy Sainte-Marie rose to fame in the 1960s. Many artists during this time wrote anti-war songs about the Vietnam War including Sainte-Marie.

Buffy Sainte-Marie on stage in the Netherlands in 1968. Image source: Wikimedia Commons.

Buffy Sainte-Marie on stage in the Netherlands in 1968. Image source: Wikimedia Commons.

But she was one of the few writing about treaty violations, relocation, residential schools and land theft for a mainstream audience. She was a fierce advocate for Indigenous people, helping to fund the Occupation of Alcatraz, supporting the American Indian Movement while still addressing the sexism within the movement, and writing about the Wounded Knee Occupation. For this she was blacklisted on the radio and surveilled by the FBI, which she didn’t know about until two decades later.

In a Teen Vogue article, she described this time of her life as extremely lonely, being the only Indigenous woman performing. She found reprieve in connecting with Indigenous communities across the country and globally. Sainte-Marie was the first Indigenous person to win an Academy Award and Golden Globe for co-writing “Up Where We Belong” in the feature film, “An Officer and a Gentleman.”

Her activism continues to this day, using her platform to bring light to global climate change, the epidemic of missing and murdered Indigenous women, advocating against oil pipelines, and supporting sustainable food solutions.

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Onondaga Faithkeeper Oren Lyons was a lacrosse goalie for Syracuse University, later becoming an All-American player. Lyons was one of the first Native Americans to attend the university. After graduating college with a fine arts degree, he became a renowned artist in New York City. He was one of the founders for the Native American Studies department at the University of Buffalo.

Oren Lyons and Sen. Daniel Inouye holding the two row wampum belt in 1987.

Oren Lyons and Sen. Daniel Inouye holding the two row wampum belt in 1987.

He co-founded the Haudenosaunee Nationals men’s lacrosse team in 1983, becoming the fifth nation to join what would become World Lacrosse, the international governing body of lacrosse.

Lyons grew up with a lacrosse stick in hand and used it to advocate for the sovereignty of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy. The Haudenosaunee Nationals travel under their passport, their own flag and play their own national anthem after the team wins.

He continues to fight for tribal sovereignty and the health of Mother Earth. He has made speeches and presentations at the United Nations and during international summits in London, Moscow, Tokyo, Brazil and South Africa.

Lyons and Sainte-Marie were among 261 “outstanding individuals” selected worldwide to join the Academy.

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