June 15th, 2024

Report raises questions about Buffy Sainte-Marie’s Indigenous claim

By Kelly Geraldine Malone, The Canadian Press on October 27, 2023.

Buffy Sainte-Marie performs at the Toronto International Film Festival's kick off event in Toronto on Thursday, Sept. 8, 2022. CBC says legendary musician Buffy Sainte-Marie’s birth certificate, other documents and details from family members contradict the singer's claim that she is Indigenous. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Alex Lupul

CBC says legendary musician and activist Buffy Sainte-Marie’s birth certificate, other documents and details from family members contradict her claim that she is Indigenous.

Sainte-Marie, 82, said ahead of the Friday report that she doesn’t know who her birth parents are or where she’s from. She called herself “a proud member of the Native community with deep roots in Canada.”

“To those who question my truth, I say with love, I know who I am,” she said Thursday in a statement.

CBC located her birth certificate, which says Sainte-Marie was born in 1941 in Stoneham, Mass., to Albert and Winifred Sainte-Marie. The document lists the baby and parents as white and includes a signature of an attending physician.

CBC said Sainte-Marie’s marriage certificate, a life insurance policy and the United States census corroborate the information on the birth certificate.

Sainte-Marie’s claim to Indigenous identity was forefront as her fame began to increase throughout the 1960s. Her debut record, “It’s My Way!,” featured several notable tunes, including “Now That the Buffalo’s Gone,” a protest song linked to the loss of Indigenous lands.

She brought First Nations culture to “Sesame Street” and is credited with being the first Indigenous person to win an Oscar. She won best original song in 1982 for co-writing “Up Where We Belong,” the ballad from the movie “An Officer and a Gentleman.”

But the story of her birth, childhood and identity shifted throughout her decades-long career in the public eye.

CBC cites news articles from the 1960s in which she identifies as Mi’kmaq, then as Algonquin and later as Cree.

Her 2018 authorized biography says there’s no official record of her birth. It says she was probably born Cree on Piapot First Nation in Saskatchewan in the early 1940s. Sainte-Marie was adopted through Cree traditions into the Piapot family in her early 20s.

The Aboriginal Peoples Television Network also obtained a copy of the birth certificate. APTN says Sainte-Marie’s team did not deny it was her birth certificate but the document could not be relied on.

Sainte-Marie said Thursday that her “growing-up mom,” Winifred Sainte-Marie, told her she was adopted and may have been born “on the wrong side of the blanket,” meaning born out of wedlock.

Conflicting stories about her adoption have also been published, some saying she was an infant, others that she was a toddler when she was taken by an American family. Some say her birth parents died or her mother was killed in a car crash.

Sainte-Marie provided an affidavit from her former lawyer, who was tasked with looking into her Indigenous heritage. It says oral history from Saskatchewan explained Sainte-Marie was born north of Piapot to a single woman “who could not care for her.”

Family members in the U.S., including Sainte-Marie’s younger sister, told CBC that Sainte-Marie was not adopted and does not have Indigenous ancestry.

The CBC report includes an article from 1964, when a man claiming to be Sainte-Marie’s uncle told the paper that she is not Indigenous and specifically not Cree. CBC says family members did not speak out further about her identity because they feared the singer would take legal action.

Sainte-Marie maintained that she does not know her birth parents, where she’s from or “how I ended up a misfit in a typical white Christian New England home.”

“I realized decades ago that I would never have the answers,” she said Thursday.

Sainte-Marie recently retired from touring, citing her health. She has received numerous accolades including a Gemini, a Golden Globe and the Governor General’s Performing Arts Award. She was also named to the Canadian Music Hall of Fame in 1995.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 27, 2023.

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