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Buffy Sainte-Marie brought Indigenous representation to TV

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When Buffy Sainte-Marie was asked to play a lead role in the TV series “The Virginian,” she also insisted that all of the Indigenous parts be played by Indigenous people—sparking a revolutionary conversation on representation that we are still having today.

TRANSCRIPT

(train whistle blowing) (gentle lilting music) - [Narrator] So, Buffy Sainte-Marie, she gets asked to play a lead role in 'The Virginian.'

- 'The Virginian' was a popular TV show that ran from 1962 to 1971.

So I told him that if you want me to do it, all of the Indigenous parts be played by Indigenous people.

And of course they said, 'Oh, that's asking too much.'

You know, there were, I forget like 36 extras.

'But our makeup people are fantastic, they can turn a dog into a cat.'

And I said, 'No, it's not just about makeup and fooling white people.

These people will bring their entire culture to your film.'

(gentle lilting music continues) - I really can't imagine.

She is this 28-year-old woman and she says, 'Well, you have to hire Indigenous people to play Indigenous parts.'

And I mean, that's a conversation we're having in 2021, that people are still pushing back against.

- They didn't know that I was already working with Jay Silverheels and with my friend Lois Red Elk.

They were already running the Indian Actors Workshop, so I knew that I had the goods.

Try and imagine 'The Sopranos' without Italians. (chuckles) Regarding Indigenous actors, I wanted to show who they were and where to find them.

So that comes back to something that I say a lot.

You don't have to go in and tear everything down.

I mean, that would take you forever, and it's impossible.

No, just cook it up yourself.

And once people get a whiff of the real deal, a lot of them are gonna just say, 'Oh, I see.'

The argument is over.

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