Legendary singer-songwriter Buffy Sainte-Marie took to social media on Thursday to address allegations questioning her Indigeneity.
“I know who I am,” the 82-year-old Canadian-American artist declared at the end of a nearly three-minute video posted on Facebook. “I know who I love and who loves me and I know who claims me. And to those who question my truth, I say with love: I know who I am.”
The video was posted in advance of Friday’s episode of CBC’s The Fifth Estate, which calls into question Sainte-Marie’s Indigenous identity. The documentary, according to the CBC’s online program guide, is the result of an investigation that included genealogical documentation, historical research and personal accounts.
In a separate printed statement released to The Globe and Mail, Sainte-Marie said that the CBC had contacted her last month to question her identity and the alleged sexual assault she experienced as a child. “To relive those times, and revisit questions I made peace with decades ago, has been beyond traumatic,” she said.
Sainte-Marie, who announced her retirement from live performances this summer due to health issues, is a Companion of the Order of Canada and a six-time Juno Award winner. Her birth history has never been completely clear, something she addressed head-on in her video statement on Thursday.
“I don’t know where I’m from, who my birth parents are, or how I ended up a misfit in a typical white Christian New England town,” she said, in reference to her upbringing. “But I realized decades ago that I would never have the answer to these questions.”
Video statement provided by Buffy Sainte-Marie addressing allegations about her claimed indigeneity.
According to the authorized 2018 biography Buffy Sainte-Marie by Andrea Warner, there is no official record of her birth. Warner writes that Sainte-Marie was, “born with the given name Beverly, most likely in 1941, on or around Feb. 20, probably on a reserve called Piapot in the Qu’Appelle Valley, Saskatchewan.”
The biography states that her adoptive American parents were Albert and Winifred Sainte-Marie, a mechanic and newspaper copy editor, respectively. Though the family was “visibly white,” her adoptive mother identified as part Mi’kmaq. Before embarking on a music career, Sainte-Marie earned degrees in teaching and philosophy at University of Massachusetts Amherst.
Warner writes that in the mid-1960s Sainte-Marie was “officially adopted” into the Piapot family and Piapot Cree Nation in Saskatchewan, and given the Cree name Medicine Bird Singing. In her Thursday statement, the singer named her adoptive parents as Emile Piapot, son of Chief Piapot, and Clara Starblanket Piapot, daughter of Chief Starblanket.
In her video, Sainte-Marie said the Piapots “took me in as an adult in accordance with Cree law and traditions, and they claimed me as their own. This has been, and always will be, my truth.”
A statement from Debra Piapot and Ntawnis Piapot (a former Globe and Mail contributor), who identified themselves as direct descendants of Chief Piapot of the Piapot Reserve, was also released this week. “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.”
On Oct. 14, Sainte-Marie was interviewed by radio and television personality Terry David Mulligan for his podcast Mulligan Stew. “I’m always trying to clarify the urban legend stories because some of them are just not true and others are confusing,” she said.
“I think there’s been confusion regarding my Piapot adoption, for instance. I was adopted into the Piapot family – not I was adopted out of Piapot Reserve.”
In 1964, the socially conscious singer released her debut album, It’s My Way!, which included her signature folk songs Universal Soldier and Cod’ine, as well as Now That the Buffalo’s Gone, a lament about the appropriation of Indigenous lands. The 1974 compilation album Native North American Child: An Odyssey was released on Vanguard Records.
In 1982, she became the first Indigenous person to win an Oscar as co-writer of Up Where We Belong for the movie An Officer and a Gentleman. Her album Power in the Blood won the 2015 Polaris Music Prize.