It looks like we have another fake Indian on our hands: Canadian folk singer Buffy Sainte-Marie
Besides Lizzie Warren, why are all the fakes in Canada?
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Sainte-Marie is one of Canada’s most celebrated “Indigenous” singers, maybe the world.
Sainte-Marie appeared on Sesame Street in 1975 when the program wanted to show Indigenous culture to children.
She told the kids and the audience she belonged to the Cree tribe while showing them jewelry and beadwork.
Sainte-Marie won an Oscar in 1983 for the song “Up Where We Belong” from An Officer and a Gentleman, supposedly the first Indigenous person to win one.
The National Arts Centre in Ottawa hosted a concert in Sainte-Marie’s honor in 2022.
Anishinabe musician ShoShona Kish claimed: “Buffy Sainte-Marie has led the way for Indigenous music on this beautiful land since her first album.”
Documentaries. Meeting the late Queen Elizabeth II. Five-part CBC podcast. Canadian Aboriginal Music Awards. Aboriginal Peoples’ Choice Music Awards
FOUR Indigenous lifetime achievement awards.
Couldn’t Decide on Indian Heritage
However, almost 50 years after stepping onto Sesame Street, the iconic singer-songwriter’s claims to Indigenous ancestry are being contradicted by members of her own family and an extensive CBC investigation.
Late last year, CBC received a tip that Sainte-Marie is not of Cree ancestry but, in fact, has European roots. She is the latest high-profile public figure whose ancestry story has been contradicted by genealogical documentation, including her own birth certificate, historical research and personal accounts — the latest chapter in the complex and growing debate around Indigenous identity in Canada.
Sainte-Marie’s lawyer said the folk singer has never “personally misrepresented her ancestry or any details about her personal history to the public.”
At first, Saint-Marie described herself as an American Indian. Then “full-blooded Algonquin Indian.” Then she was born “a Micmac (Mi’kmaq) Indian in Maine. Then she called herself half-Micmac.
Finally, in 1963, Sainte-Marie settled on being Cree.
In 1971, Sainte-Marie wrote in a book: “When I go home to the Cree reserve in Canada where I was born, I usually spend a few hours of every day teaching the Cree language.”
Los Angeles Time Magazine in 1986: “I was born on the Piapot Cree reservation near Craven, Sask.”
Sainte-Marie said Albert and Winifred Santamaria adopted and raised her near Boston.
She later “reunited with her Piapot relatives and adopted into the community.”
In one song, Sainte-Marie sings, “Take me back to where my heart belongs — Qu’Appelle Valley, Saskatchewan.”
In a recent Facebook video, Sainte-Marie said she remains “a proud member of the Native community with deep roots in Canada.” But she also “said there are many things she doesn’t know about her ancestry.”
Records Don’t Lie
Heidi St. Marie, daughter of Buffy’s older brother Alan, said her aunt was born in the United States, not Canada: “She’s clearly not Indigenous or Native American.”
The CBC reported that Sainte-Marie’s birth certificate states she was born in Stoneham, MA. Race of mother, father, and baby? White. Arthur’s family changed their name from Santamaria to St. Marie due to “anti-Italian prejudice that developed during the Second World War.”
My dad adopted me. Once it became official, Illinois changed my birth certificate to show him as my father and my new last name.
However, nothing else changed on my birth certificate. I do not know if it would change everything as Massachusetts would have had to in Sainte-Marie’s case.
Sainte-Marie could pull off the show because her father’s family is from Italy. My mom’s dad’s family is from southern Italy. All the kids look like the typical southern Italian: dark olive skin, black hair, and black eyes. My brother got the Italian looks. I did not for some weird reason.
Anyway, Sainte-Marie’s family, at times, tried to call her out. None of them believed she was adopted or had Indian blood in her. They all thought it was a publicity stunt and supported her.
It sounds like they did it because once Sainte-Marie took off, she could afford the big lawyers:
Whispers began to swirl that Sainte-Marie had threatened family members, including her own brother, with legal action or worse if they publicly questioned her ancestry claims.
“I remember those stories growing up … ‘Don’t talk about it. We don’t want any trouble…. Let her do what she wants to do because we don’t want to lose our house. We don’t want lawyers coming and suing us for defamation,’” Santamaria said.
CBC traveled to Stoneham, MA, in search of Sainte-Marie’s birth certificate.
Town clerk Maria Sagarino showed CBC the secure vault that contains all Stoneham birth certificates.
She flipped through a 1941 binder until she reached Feb. 20 — certificate No. 49.
She pulled Sainte-Marie’s original, handwritten birth certificate from its clear plastic sleeve. It was signed by Dr. Herbert Land — the same doctor who delivered Sainte-Marie’s sister, Lainey, in 1948. He certified that Sainte-Marie was born at 3:15 a.m. to Albert and Winifred Santamaria.
“This is the original that came from the hospital,” said Sagarino, who has worked at the Stoneham town hall for more than 20 years. “There’s no refuting this because it’s in my custody from my files in my vault.”
In her email to CBC, Sainte-Marie’s lawyer said: “Research has also revealed that children adopted by parents in Massachusetts were commonly issued new Massachusetts birth certificates with the name of their adoptive parents.”
CBC asked Sagarino if that happened in this case.
She said no.
“It doesn’t appear that she was adopted in any way, shape or form,” Sagarino said.
She said if Sainte-Marie had truly been adopted from Saskatchewan, the file would contain her legal adoption records and proof she entered the United States.
Instead, her file only contains an original Stoneham birth certificate.
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