Joni Mitchell says Saskatoon doesn’t ‘get’ it – and it looks like she’s right

by Hillary Nelson
Metro Saskatoon
July 28, 2013

I want to get a few things straight with respect to the recent kerfuffle in this bridged city about an artist and her comments.

It seems that many people are not reading much past the headlines, and have used this as an excuse to attack Joni Mitchell personally. This campaign of misinformed outrage has been chuffing along since June, when everybody read the headline but not the story about Ms. Mitchell "wanting her stuff back." The interview therein was with her family friend and his interpretation of her wishes, not with Joni herself.

When the Star-Phoenix got in touch with the artist herself last week, she had some rather direct words about Saskatoon. A subset of our population chose to attack her for her words, rather than to applaud her forthrightness and ask themselves whether there is any basis for it.

She stated in the interview that Saskatoon doesn't "get" her ideas. I'm inclined to agree. Joni Mitchell doesn't want to be commemorated just for living in Saskatoon for a bit and then going on to become famous. This city helped shape her identity; she'd like to return the favour. She tried to make the proposal "inclusive or fun or educational," as in the efforts to establish a cultural centre.

Her frustration is understandable at having her attempts to bridge the gap between First Nations and descendants of settlers rejected.

When she expresses objection to this, she's "petulant," and a bigot for calling all of us bigots, an "ungrateful washed-up folk singer" or worse. I remember this line of "reasoning" from the fifth grade. Only people have gone a bit further than calling her "unco-operative" or "snooty," as she said in the interview, for rejecting further involvement in the tiring business of yet another attempt at a Joni monument. We'd rather have her be a "long-haired hippie blond chick" to put on postcards, the human equivalent of the Bessborough, rather than an active participant in her legacy.

Joni has always resisted the mould and the party line - she dropped out of high school, and out of the Alberta College of Art and Design in Calgary. A static sign on a bridge that says nothing about what she stands for is not a fitting tribute, nor would it draw tourists to this city. If you were to name a bridge after her, it would be the Broadway Bridge, where she spent time, instead of a concrete slab much farther south.

If you want to honour her ideals, support her vision of a First Nations cultural centre. Support the arts and arts education in this city, so artists no longer have to leave, as she did, to gain recognition. Let's not reduce her to the role of a figurehead for this city, a plaque on the side of a house.


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