Mother Earth

Music by Amos and Alfred Key
Lyrics by Sadie Buck, 1995

Sadie Buck, who wrote the lyrics for this song, is a member of the Six Nations confederacy. What is the Six Nations?

What is a women's shuffle dance, also known as an eskanye?

This song foregrounds gender in several ways: it is a song for accompanying a women's dance, it is traditionally sung by men but here sung by women, its title—"Mother Earth"—refers to the earth as female, and the people who have abused the earth are identified as "brothers." Why do you think Buck and the Six Nations Women Singers chose to foreground gender? What messages are they trying to convey about gender and environmentalism?

This song uses conventions common to much of the traditional music of the Six Nations. Compare the song to powwow music rooted in traditions of the nations of the Great Plains. (For examples, see "Menominee Veterans Song," "Lakota Flag Song/Veterans Song," or the songs "Electric Intertribal" and "[Silence] Is a Weapon," which combine traditional music with modern sounds.) What different instruments do you hear? How is the singing different?

Compare this song to Marvin Gaye's "Mercy Mercy Me." What similarities exist in their portrayals of environmental challenges? How does race factor into the songwriters' perceptions of environmentalism?

"Mother Earth" recorded by the Six Nations Women Singings on Heartbeat: Voices of First Nations Women, © 1995. Available on iTunes, Spotify, and YouTube.

 

"The Earth, our Mother, is crying tears, Earth is shedding tears for the bad thing our 'young brothers' (white people) have been doing to her."

Sadie Buck

Sadie Buck.

Sadie Buck was born in the Seneca community in Tonawanda, New York, in the 1950s and grew up on the Six Nations Reservation in Ohsweken, Ontario, Canada. She is the founder of the Six Nations Women Singers, one of the most widely known female Native American singing groups. Buck, who teaches at McMaster University, adapted lyrics of a traditional Cayuga song to create "Mother Earth." The music was written by Amos and Alfred Key, who are prominent Native American singers and dancers.

"Mother Earth" was written to accompany a social dance, specifically a women's shuffle dance, or "eskanye." Most of the music performed by the Six Nations Women Singers is for such Iroquois social dances. They are traditionally sung by men to accompany female dancers, but since the mid-1980s women have been singing them in public. The eskanye involves two or more singers (most typically 6 to 10) in the middle of a circle. Only women perform the dance, accompanied by a water drum and horn rattles. These instruments can be heard in "Mother Earth."

This song is included on an album produced by Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, titled Heartbeats: Voices of First Nations Women (1995). The album features songs traditionally sung by Native American women as well as musics traditionally performed by men.