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Act to celebrate Mitchell legacy Print-ready version

Saskatoon StarPhoenix
July 24, 2013

Joni Mitchell's words blow in like a stinging Prairie wind.

In an interview in this issue of the StarPhoenix, the legendary singer-songwriter-artist rejects a move to retain in Saskatoon some mementos from her years of growing up here.

She also makes it clear that racism is a problem she identifies with Saskatoon, even making a comparison to the Deep South.

"I feel that it's very isolated, very unworldly, and doesn't grasp the idea of honour," were among her comments.

Hardy, thick-skinned Saskatchewan residents should be able to handle a little tough talk. It is possible to have affection for a place and see its flaws. This is where Ms. Mitchell is coming from, and residents should not be too defensive about her comments.

And there are lessons to be learned from Saskatoon's failure to recognize a woman who is arguably its most celebrated daughter. There is no street in the city bearing her name, no park. A creative statue project she wanted to spearhead did not come to fruition. While a couple of European cities have festivals centred around her music, that has not happened in her hometown.

Now there will be no display of treasures from her youth, including homemade dresses and scrapbooks compiled by her mother.

Even those who are not fans of Ms. Mitchell - and those ranks may have grown after her most recent comments - cannot argue with the legacy she leaves. Big Yellow Taxi, Woodstock and Both Sides, Now are just a few of the songs that helped establish her as a folk icon.

Other cities seem to have a better grip on showcasing their successful sons and daughters. The Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam and the Emily Carr House in Victoria are just a couple of examples of showcasing homegrown talent.

These kinds of developments are good for those centres in many ways, driving tourism, deepening historic roots, exposing people to creative endeavours, and creating economic opportunities.

Honouring Ms. Mitchell seems obvious, and yet it has not happened here. We need to learn to properly celebrate our culture and accomplishments. Whatever is getting in the way - a false sense of Prairie humility or straight-up disorganization - must be tackled.

Mitchell says she is not interested in being involved in another Saskatoon project.

"I love Saskatoon," she says. "Don't get me wrong. I had such enjoyable teenage years there. I started to play the guitar and paint there. My gifts began there. But I cannot go through another one of these. If you want to do something, leave me out of it. Just do it."

This is something that needs to happen, not just for her sake but because she is part of the story of Saskatoon.

Ms. Mitchell has been quoted as saying, "There are things to confess that enrich the world, and things that need not be said."

With respect, Saskatoon needs to confess its pride in someone who is a source of inspiration to millions.

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