First Nations professors say Sainte-Marie story raises valid questions about artist’s Indigeneity

Two First Nations academics say they believe a new documentary that questions iconic artist Buffy Sainte-Marie’s Indigeneity raises some serious issues that need to be explored.

“Was she Indigenous at birth,” Toronto Metropolitan University professor Pam Palmater asked. “Yes or no? What does the evidence say? If she wasn’t, was she adopted as a child into an Indigenous family either officially or according to Cree custom? It’s either yes or no.

“Then as an adult, was she adopted into a community and made a band member or was she adopted into a family?”

The CBC documentary raises questions about Sainte-Marie’s place of birth and membership in the Piapot First Nation in Saskatchewan.

McGill University professor Veldon Coburn agreed that although painful, some of Saint-Marie’s claims need to be tested as a result of the documentary.

“Well they’re meritorious questions I think,” he said. “A lot of people don’t want to believe. We just don’t want to think or really go down that (road) – but there are some shifting claims and the evidence kind of on a balance of probabilities makes us want to question more.”

Nevertheless, Saskatchewan lawyer Eleanore Sunchild has a different take and believes Sainte-Marie is Indigenous.

She deals with a number of ‘60s Scoop cases and said validating such files can be difficult.

“In my practice, doing historical files and specially working with ‘60s Scoop adoptees, there have been major problems with documentation,” Sunchild said. “I have seen birth certificates that have been falsified. There’s so much missing information in the ‘60s Scoop files.”

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Buffy Sainte-Marie speaks out regarding questions of Cree ancestry 

Some of the questions regarding Sainte-Marie’s identity stem from a Massachusetts birth certificate for Beverly Jean Santamaria, a certified copy of which APTN has obtained. The birth certificate has the same birthdate of Buffy Sainte-Marie, the same given name for Buffy (Beverly Jean), as well as the same given names of the parents who raised her (Winifred and Albert).

At the same time, Palmater said there remain some serious issues Sainte-Marie needs to set the record straight on.

“There’s a lot of very specific issues that we have to parse out and I think the most important one for all of this is what did she know, when did she know and has she been honest?”

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