In early October, Buffy Sainte-Marie returned to Montreal to perform at the Église St-Jean-Baptiste as part of the Pop Montreal music festival.

When tracked down in New York City a week before her arrival, Sainte-Marie was curious about the venue. “What’s the church like? Does it have good acoustics? I’ve got a rock band and we’re going to rock out.”

The globetrotting Sainte-Marie had been on the road for several weeks with her new band. “We’ve just spent time in Norway, England and Canada,” she explained. “Most recently we were out in Blackfoot country. We did five concerts in Alberta, in places like Lethbridge and Fort MacLeod, right by the Buffalo Jump. The Blackfoot, the Bloods, the Peigan and the Cree – they really looked after us. It was great to expose my new guys to the richness of Canadian western Indian culture.”

Then without missing a beat, Sainte-Marie introduces her new band. “It’s an all-Aboriginal band with three guys who are heavy rockers out of Winnipeg – all reserve guys. The bassist is Darryl Menow, who is Cree. Then there’s guitarist Jesse Green, who is the son of blues guitarist Billy Joe Green, and drummer Mike Bruyere. Both are Ojibway.

“Then I have two back-up singers – Soni Moreno, who’s Apache, Yaqui and Mayan, and Jennifer Kreisberg, who is Tuscarora and Jewish. As you see, we have a bunch of tribes in there. It’s a hot rocking band and we’re having fun.”

Fun is the operative word as witnessed last year at her Montreal jazz festival concert. Not only does the attractive 68-year-old delivers an entertaining, high-energy show, but she possesses a spirited and youthful personality.

When asked about her secret, Sainte-Marie simply laughs. “People always ask me why I’m so healthy. For one thing I live in Hawaii, where I lead a happy, healthy life. I live on a farm and run around chasing 27 goats.

“Also, I’ve always worked out – even in the ’60s, when it was really dorky to do so. I’ve always had gym memberships and when I travelled around the world with just my guitar, I would always work out.

“Plus, I don’t drink alcohol, and that’s kind of rare in my line of business. If I show up for a concert, I want to be there. I’m not doing it for the money, and I don’t go out and get drunk after the concert. When I look at my peers, they all look like they’re ready to shake hands with St. Peter.”

Sainte-Marie also credits the fact that throughout her long career, she has never become a big star. “I never got famous enough to really get burned out. I didn’t have that mega fame that others had, which forced them to live in the city all the time and do huge concert tours. I always take time off, and go back and forth to Hawaii. I live a life that I love.”

Besides being as a singer-songwriter, actor and Native activist, Sainte-Marie is also a visual artist and teacher who started using computers and technology in her work long before it became the norm. “I’ve been using interactive media for many years. It’s how I make my albums and my paintings. Also, it’s how I deliver my Cradleboard teaching project. My teaching approach is engaging, hands-on and colourful. It involves music and sound, and the students are actually in charge of what they are doing. It’s such a better way to teach, expecially since my project is multi-cultural.”

As an educater, Sainte-Marie is a big supporter of teaching science to young children, especially to Aboriginals. “It’s science through Native American eyes – whoever thought of that kind of concept – well me. It just happens that I hang out with astronauts and people at NASA. I’m crazy about the sky, I go to a local navy base and use their telescopes, and I happen to be involved with the Aboriginal population.

“For me what I do is not work, it’s just putting together the things in life that I love. I think in the future more people are going to be able to do that. It seems very natural to me.”

Sainte-Marie feels that the traditional school system is not always the best way to motivate young people. “There are so many things in life that are exciting and young children possess that excitement. Then they go to school, and it gets pounded out of them. They have to stand in line and wait for some grown-up to drone on and on about something. But it doesn’t have to be that way, learning can be exciting and engaging and fun.

“I spend a lot of time teaching teachers at the university level how to write interactive multi-media curriculum in Native studies and science. The power of the Internet and emerging technologies can be applied to make things colourful and fun and to engage people.”

But regardless of all her interests, the Saskatchewan-born Cree is best known as a singer-songwriter, especially for such songs as Universal Soldier, Until It’s Time for You to Go and Up Where We Belong (from the film An Officer and A Gentleman). Last year, she released her latest album, Running For The Drum, which is a mix of love and politically charged songs.

For her “church” show, Sainte-Marie played a balanced selection of her hits and new material. The latter included rockers like No No Keshagesh and Cho Cho Fire as well as Little Wheel Spin and Spin and Blue Sunday.

Seeing Saint-Marie perform on stage you quickly realize that this where she belongs. “I agree,” she quips modestly, “I’m like a daisy in the pasture.”