She was born on a Cree reservation in the Qu'Appelle valley, Saskatchewan. She was later adopted and grew up in Maine and Massachusetts. She received a Ph.D. in Fine Arts from the University of Massachusetts and also holds degrees in both Oriental Philosophy and teaching.
In the 1960s, she wrote the protest song "Universal Soldier" and the love song "Until It's Time For You To Go".
She appeared regularly on Sesame Street over a five year period.
Her song "Up Where We Belong", performed by Joe Cocker and Jennifer Warnes for the film An Officer and A Gentleman, received an Academy Award in 1982. She appeared in the television movie "The Broken Chain" with Pierce Brosnan.
Her digital art creations have been displayed at the Glenbow Museum in Calgary and the American Indian Arts Museum in Santa Fe.
She received the Order of Canada in 1998.