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Singer Buffy Sainte-Marie’s Indigenous ancestry questioned as birth certificate emerges

Buffy Sainte-Marie
Buffy Sainte-Marie:'I can relate to our people who feel betrayed' - George Pimentel/Getty Images

An investigation has cast doubt over Canadian folk singer Buffy Sainte-Marie’s claims of native North American ancestry.

For decades Sainte-Marie has maintained that she was a member of the Cree Indian tribe who was adopted by a white American couple when she was a baby.

But a bombshell investigation from Canada’s public broadcaster, CBC, claims to have found a birth certificate which appears to show that her adoptive parents are in fact her biological parents.

The document identified the singer as Beverly Jean Santamaria, the daughter of Albert and Winifred Santamaria.

The singer’s website says she is “believed to have been born in 1941 on the Piapot First Nation reserve in Saskatchewan…taken from her biological parents when she was an infant.

“She was adopted by a visibly white couple and raised in Maine and Massachusetts,” the site reads. “As a child, Buffy’s adoptive mother self-identified as part Mi’kmaq but knew little about indigenous culture.”

But CBC said her claims had been questioned by members of her family.

Described allegations ‘hurtful’

“She wasn’t born in Canada.… She’s clearly born in the United States,” Heidi Sainte-Marie, her niece, told the broadcaster.

Sainte-Marie described the allegations as “hurtful”.

Last week she reiterated her insistence that she was of Native American heritage in a post on Facebook.

She was supported by the acting chief of the Piapot First Nation, Ira Lavallee.

“I can relate and understand to a lot of our people who feel betrayed and, in a sense, lied to by her claiming Indigenous ancestry, when in fact she may not be Indigenous.

“When it comes to Buffy specifically, we can’t pick and choose which part of our culture we decide to adhere to.

“We do have one of our families in our community that did adopt her. Regardless of her ancestry, that adoption in our culture to us is legitimate.”

Deep ties to Canada

Ms Sainte-Marie responded with a statement on social media.

“I am proud of my Indigenous-American family, and the deep ties I have to Canada and my Piapot family,” she wrote.

“My Indigenous identity is rooted in a deep connection to a community which has had a profound role shaping my life and my work.”

The 82-year-old activist, who publicly proclaimed her Indigenous ancestry when she appeared on Sesame Street in 1975, became the latest prominent North American figure to be accused of being a “Pretendian”.

Sacheen Littlefeather, the actress and activist who shot to fame when she accepted an Oscar on behalf of Marlon Brando in 1973 for his role in The Godfather, was recently accused by her relatives of falsely claiming Apache heritage.