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One of the World’s Most Prominent Indigenous Icons May Not Be Indigenous After All

One of Canada’s most prominent Indigenous icons might not be Indigenous after all, according to media reports.

Buffy Sainte-Marie, who was considered the first Indigenous person to win an Oscar, has always claimed to be a Cree Indian born in Canada who was then adopted by an American couple and raised near Boston. The singer-songwriter is known for her appearance on Sesame Street, was commemorated on Canadian postage stamps and performed for Queen Elizabeth II.

Canadian Broadcasting Corp. (CBC) News conducted an investigation into Sainte-Marie based on public records and interviews, including with estranged family members of the singer-songwriter. The 82-year-old icon has said she was born on the Piapot First Nation in Saskatchewan and adopted as an infant by a White family in Massachusetts, but a birth certificate says she was born Beverly Jean Santamaria to parents of Italian and English ancestry in the U.S.

The investigation documented contradictory statements that Sainte-Marie has made about her Indigenous past, including articles from early in her career in which she was described as being from different native groups.

But, Heidi St. Marie, the daughter of Sainte-Marie’s older brother, told CBC that the family didn’t believe Sainte-Marie was Indigenous.

“She wasn’t born in Canada.… She’s clearly born in the United States,” St. Marie said. “She’s clearly not Indigenous or Native American.”

“Nobody except for Buffy ever talked about Buffy being adopted,” she said.

CBC said her claim is supported by documents obtained by the news organization, including Sainte-Marie’s birth certificate which says she was born a White female in Stoneham, Massachusetts, to Albert and Winifred Santamaria in 1941.

In defense of her heritage, Sainte-Marie posted a video statement to Facebook, where she said she is “a proud member of the Native community with deep roots in Canada.”

In 2022, PBS reported that “she was taken from her family against their will” as a part of a practice in Canada known as the Sixties Scoop.

“In Canada, we had something that, sometimes, a little bit later referred to as the ‘Big Scoop’ where Native children were removed from the home,” Sainte-Marie said in a 2018 interview with NPR. “They’re assigned a birthday. They’re assigned kind of a biography. So, in many cases, adoptive people don’t really know what the true story is.”

Sainte-Marie’s younger sister, Lainey, told CBC her parents never mentioned that Sainte-Marie was adopted, adding that the first time she heard such a claim was when Sainte-Marie was in her early 20s.

CBC traveled to Stoneham to confirm the authenticity of the birth certificate.

Town clerk Maria Sagarino showed CBC the secure vault that contains the birth certificates, which included Sainte-Marie’s original, handwritten birth certificate that was signed by the same doctor who delivered Sainte-Marie’s sister to the same parents Sainte-Marie said she was adopted by.

“This is the original that came from the hospital,” Sagarino said. “There’s no refuting this because it’s in my custody from my files in my vault.”

“I can say absolutely with 100 percent certainty that this is the original birth certificate,” Sagarino added told CBC. “Beverly Jean Santamaria was born in Stoneham, Mass., at New England Sanatorium and Hospital on Feb. 20, 1941.”

  • Kenny says:

    I don’t know if she is or isn’t, but it does look like she is a little mental.

  • John says:

    Are there really any indigenous persons still living, or did they ever exist at all?

  • cj says:

    Many people lied to be indian tribes to get free school and other shit .I know first hand 3 that did it .lies all lies free sgit from housing to college to food to what ever they needed it is still going on .

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