Oscar-winning folk singer Buffy Sainte-Marie has long been viewed as a barrier-breaking, Indigenous icon — but a recent news investigation has raised doubts over her Indigenous roots.
A Canadian Broadcast Corporation feature on the singer-songwriter has led to accusations that Sainte-Marie is a “pretendian” — the term coined for individuals who fake having Indigenous ancestry.
Sainte-Marie, 82, claimed that she was born on a Piapot Cree reservation in Canada and was adopted by white parents as a part of the country’s infamous Sixties Scoop during which Indigenous children were faraway from their families and adopted by white families in a government policy of forced assimilation.
However the recent CBC report cites a birth certificate that states the singer was born “Beverly Jean Santamaria” in Stoneham, Massachusetts to oldsters of European lineage.
It also quotes several members of the family who claim “her story is an elaborate fabrication.”
Sainte-Marie shared her Cree culture with youths across the nation when she appeared on Sesame Street within the Nineteen Seventies and she or he has won quite a few awards including an Oscar in 1983 for co-writing the song “Up Where We Belong” — for which she became considered the primary Indigenous person to win the celebrated award.
She rose to success amongst other folk singers within the early Sixties and has reappeared in popular culture lately because of exhibits, podcasts and documentaries on her life legacy and work fighting for Indigenous people.
In 2021, Sainte-Marie’s face even appeared on a Canadian stamp.
The importance of her role inside Indigenous communities, especially those in Canada, made her potential fraud all of the more shocking and hurtful to members of those communities who feel their heritage, pain and history were stolen for her advantage.
“It’s theft of opportunities, resources. It’s theft of our stories,” Indigenous scholar Kim TallBear, a professor of Native studies on the University of Alberta in Edmonton, told CBC.
The people singer called the allegations “hurtful” in a press release released before the CBC report was published, knowing what was to return.
She wrote that what she knows of her Indigenous ancestry, she learned from her “growing up mother” and her own research later in life.
“My mother told me many things, including that I used to be adopted and that I used to be Native, but there was no documentation as was common for Indigenous children born within the 1940’s,” Sainte-Marie said.
She added that she doesn’t know where she is from or who her birth parents were and “won’t ever know.”
What she does know, she said, is that she was adopted by a Piapot First Nation couple, Emile Piapot and Clara Starblanket Paipot, “in accordance with Cree law and customs” as a young adult.
Sainte-Marie adds one other name to a growing list of distinguished Indigenous figures whose ancestry has been questioned as fraudulent, including Sacheen Littlefeather — whose apparent lies were outed by her sisters after her death.