Buffy Sainte-Marie has released a statement defending her Indigenous heritage, a move that appears to be in response to upcoming documentary that is expected to raise questions about the subject.
The musician and activist — who became the first Indigenous person to win an Oscar for her musical contribution to the 1982 film An Officer and a Gentleman — appears to be the subject of an upcoming episode of the Canadian television series The Fifth Estate. Out October 27th, the episode description says “an icon’s claims to Indigenous ancestry are being called into question by family members and an investigation that included genealogical documentation, historical research and personal accounts.”
The description does not mention Sainte-Marie by name, but the artist released a statement about the episode, claiming that the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation contacted her “to question my identity and the sexual assault I experienced as a child.”
In her statement, Sainte-Marie explains that she was adopted, but that her “growing up mother,” who was part Mi’kmag, said there was no documentation for her birth, as was common for Indigenous people born in the 1940s. As a young adult, she was ceremoniously adopted into the Piapot Cree family.
“I have always struggled to answer questions about who I am,” Saint-Marie wrote. “For a long time, I tried to discover information about my background. Through that research what became clear, and what I’ve always been honest about, is that I don’t know where I’m from or who my birth parents were, and I will never know. Which is why, to be questioned in this way is painful, both for me, and for my two families I love so dearly.”
“My Indigenous identity is rooted in a deep connection to a community which has had a profound role in shaping my life and my work,” the artist continued. “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. I have always tried to bridge gaps between communities and educate people to live in love and kindness.” Read Sainte-Marie’s statement below.
In addition to her statement, Sainte-Marie provided additional corroborations to The Hollywood Reporter. Two grandchildren of her “adopted” parents, Emile Piapot and Clara Starblanket, called the accusations “hurtful, ignorant, colonial – and racist,” writing, “Buffy is our family. We chose her and she chose us. We claim her as a member of our family and all of our family members are from the Piapot First Nation. To us, that holds far more weight than any paper documentation or colonial record keeping ever could.”
Sainte-Marie also submitted a sworn affidavit from her longtime legal counsel Delia Opekokew (Canoe Lake Cree), who pointed to the longstanding Indigenous tradition of oral history over written documentation, as well as the “consistent corroboration” of elders who would have knowledge on the circumstances of Sainte-Marie’s birth. Opekokew said she has “no doubt that Buffy Sainte-Marie is an Indigenous woman with community accountability through her Piapot family in Saskatchewan.”
Earlier this year, Sainte-Marie announced that she was retiring from live performances due to “travel-induced health concerns and performance-inhibiting physical challenges.” The questions surrounding her identity follow similar allegations against Sacheen Littlefeather, the late Native American activist best known for accepting an award for Marlon Brando at the Oscars and enduring racist mockery for her appearance.
My Truth As I know it – Buffy pic.twitter.com/CZjBMOcKP9
— Buffy Sainte-Marie (@BuffySteMarie) October 26, 2023