February 23, 2024

A new Canadian Broadcast Corporation investigation has raised questions about the Indigenous identity of Buffy Sainte-Marie.

The singer-songwriter, considered to be the first Indigenous Oscar winner for co-writing the song “Up Where We Belong” from 1982’s “An Officer and a Gentleman,” has long claimed she was born on a Piapot Cree reservation in 1941 in the Canadian province of Saskatchewan. Sainte-Marie was then adopted by white parents as part of a Canadian government policy known as the Sixties Scoop.

The CBC countered these details in a report published Friday, along with an accompanying episode of the documentary series “The Fifth Estate.” In the report, several of Sainte-Marie’s family members “believe her story is an elaborate fabrication,” which is supported by documents obtained by the CBC. Among these documents is Sainte-Marie’s Stoneham, Mass., birth certificate saying she was born as Beverly Jean Santamaria to parents of European ancestry. The CBC had the document authenticated by Stoneham town clerk Maria Sagarino.

On Thursday, ahead of the report and documentary from the CBC, Sainte-Marie issued both a written and video statement on social media.

“I am proud of my Indigenous-American family, and the deep ties I have to Canada and my Piapot family,” Sainte-Marie wrote. As a young adult, Sainte-Marie was adopted by members of the Piapot First Nation in Saskatchewan, in accordance with Cree law and customs.

She added, “My Indigenous identity is rooted in a deep connection to a community which has had a profound role shaping my life and my work. For my entire life, I have championed Indigenous, and Native American causes when nobody else would, or had the platform to do so. I am proud to have been able to speak up for Indigenous issues.”

After researching newspaper reports from the beginning of Sainte-Marie’s career in 1963, the CBC learned that “in the space of those 10 months, she was referred to as Algonquin, full-blooded Algonquin, Mi’kmaq, half-Mi’kmaq and Cree.”

Lawyer and “Indigenous identity fraud” expert Jean Teillet said a particular warning sign of those not telling the truth about their ancestry is “shifting Indigenous identities.” According to Teillet, Mi’kmaq live on the East Coast, Algonquin people are from Ontario and northern Quebec and Cree people are primarily from the Prairies, so it’s unlikely to mistake one for the other since they hail from different regions of Canada.

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