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Icon of Native Americans, did the folk star lie about his origins?

A CBC investigation ensures that Buffy Sainte-Marie, a Cree Indian from Canada belonging to the folk-rock legend, was in fact born into an American family in Massachusetts.
“I don’t know where I come from,” regretted the artist who kept his origins unclear.

To those who question my truth, I respond with love: I know who I am“. Despite the publication of a press release revealing her four truths, Buffy Sainte-Marie remains at the center of a lively controversy in Canada. According to a CBC investigation, this very popular singer and actress in the country was not born in a Canadian Indian reserve… but on the other side of the border, in the United States, in a white family.

During his career which began in the 1960s, this figure of protest in the 60s and 70s always espoused the Indian cause, appearing on stage in traditional dress. She said more specifically that she was a native of the Cree tribe in Saskatchewan. The artist has often described being adopted at a young age by Albert and Winifred Santamaria, a couple from Massachusetts, before being reunited with her original community several years later. For a long time, her biographies claimed that she did not have a birth certificate.

What is certain is that during his immense career which earned him his star on the Walk of Fame of Canada and having received the Screen Actors Guild Lifetime Achievement Award of Hollywood, his appearances, notably in “Sesame Street” in 1975, “have enriched public television with important subjects such as breastfeeding, (…) and Native American languages ​​and cultures”, we read on the biography of his site. And to underline this attachment to its origins. “When she agreed to play a role in the television series The Virginian, the condition was that all the indigenous roles be played by indigenous actors, which was unheard of at the time. Throughout her career, Buffy has dedicated much of her time and resources to supporting indigenous people through various educational programs. Beginning in 1969, his Nihewan Foundation for Native American Education provided scholarships for Native American studies and students, two of whom became presidents of tribal colleges.

“My mother told me I was adopted”

However, last year, when the CBC received a copy of what was said to be the birth certificate, the legend took a hit. It contains the name “Beverly Jean Santamaria”, the musician’s full name before she began her career. We can also read that the parents and the child were white. To support its thesis, the national public broadcaster obtained other documents. For example, the 1950 American census: it specifies that Beverly, then aged nine, is a little white girl born in Massachusetts to the Santamaria couple.

The CBC adds that members of her family did not want to contradict her, for fear that the singer would take legal action.

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Initially silent, the artist published a text on Facebook. “What I know about my Indigenous identity I learned from my mother, who is part Mi’kmaw, and from my own research“, indicates Buffy Sainte-Marie. “My mother told me I was adopted, that I was Native, but there was no documentation, as was often the case for children born in the 1940s“, she adds. Before regretting: “I don’t know where I come from, who my biological parents are, or how I ended up misadjusted in a typical white Christian New England home. I realized decades ago that I would never the answers.”

Buffy Sainte-Marie also provided a sworn statement from her former lawyer, who was charged with examining her Indigenous ancestry. According to'”oral history” in Saskatchewan, the singer was born north of Piapot to a single woman “who couldn’t take care of herself.”

Buffy Sainte-Marie has received numerous accolades during her career, including a Golden Globe. His songs have notably been performed by Elvis Presley, Barbara Streisand and Glen Campbell. She recently stopped touring due to health reasons.


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