Buffy Sainte-Marie Responds to Questions About Her Indigeneity: "I May Not Know Where I Was Born, but I Know Who I Am"

"To relive those times, and revisit questions I made peace with decades ago, has been beyond traumatic"

Photo: Bryan Ledgard

BY Megan LaPierrePublished Oct 26, 2023

All week, X (the social media platform formerly known as Twitter) has been full of whisperings that the CBC would soon report an inquest into the veracity of legendary musician and activist Buffy Sainte-Marie's Indigenous status.

UPDATE (10/27, 11:47 a.m. ET): CBC's Geoff Leo, Roxanna Woloshyn and Linda Guerriero have now published the piece, "Who is the real Buffy Sainte-Marie?," alleging that members of Sainte-Marie's own family have contradicted her claims to Indigenous ancestry amid their extensive investigation.

Questions about her indigeneity are reportedly central to an episode of The Fifth Estate. "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 news documentary show's description for tomorrow's (October 27) instalment reads. According to CTV News, the CBC's Chuck Thompson told the Canadian Press in an email, "Beyond what's in the program description, we have nothing more to add."

Although the broadcaster has yet to officially make any claims, Sainte-Marie has beaten them to the punch by pre-emptively issuing a statement entitled "My Truth as I Know It" on social media.

"It is with great sadness, and a heavy heart, that I am forced to respond to deeply hurtful allegations that I expect will be reported in the media soon," she wrote. "Last month, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation contacted me to question my identity and the sexual assault I experienced as a child. To relive those times, and revisit questions I made peace with decades ago, has been beyond traumatic. But I know I owe it to those I love, and those who support me, to respond."

Sainte-Marie went on to express her pride in being Indigenous-American, and in the deep ties she has to Canada and the Piapot family, who adopted her as a young adult in accordance with Cree law and customs. Before that, her adoptive mother was part Mi'kmaq and told her that she was Native, "but there was no documentation as was common for Indigenous children born in the 1940s."

"I have always struggled to answer questions about who I am," the artist continued. "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 today 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. For my entire life, I have championed Indigenous and Native American causes when nobody else would, or had the platform to do so."

Saint-Marie added that being forced to "relive and defend" her experience as a sexual abuse survivor, which she endured at the hands of both her brother and another family member who has never been publicly named, is incredibly painful. "I could never forget these violations. It is something I have lived with all my life," she said. "Speaking about my experience is difficult, and although I have shared privately, I have rarely done so publicly. I've spoken up because I know others cannot, and to have this questioned and sensationalized by Canada's public broadcaster is appalling."

"I may not know where I was born, but I know who I am," the singer-songwriter wrote in conclusion.

Two grandchildren of her adoptive parents Emile Piapot and Clara Starblanket added in a statement of their own, "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."

Read Sainte-Marie's full statement below.

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