On October 26th, 2023, rumours began to circulate about a news story that was about to be aired on CBC Television. That story questioned music icon Buffy Sainte-Marie’s indigeneity.
“Oh, man,” I thought, “the gatekeepers are coming after Buffy. How dare they? C’mon, she’s obviously native, right?”
Before the story broke, I believed Buffy’s heartfelt pre-emptive video defense of herself. I have personally had experience with gatekeepers challenging my indigeneity and I know how hurtful that can be; so, I immediately sided with her. I reasoned in my case it was understandable. After all, I am a blue-eyed fair skinned old lady. I get why someone might question me. But Buffy? Yes, I looked at her colour and her features, just as people look at mine.
But the CBC’s Fifth Estate story is very convincing. I do not want this story to be true, but it’s hard to ignore the receipts.
Buffy Sainte-Marie has claimed she was born in Canada and adopted into the US. Not true. She was born in the US and raised by her biological family. Those who make excuses by suggesting her birth certificate was altered, as was often done in those days, misunderstand how adoption works, even undocumented ones.
I was born in 1959 and adopted in 1963 in BC, Canada. My own registration of live birth has been altered, so I understand the confusion. Under the heading “Ethnicity”, the original entry on my registration was redacted and changed to read “white.” On its surface, that might seem nefarious, but if you saw me, you might think otherwise.
Adopted children are issued a new birth certificate showing their new name. According to CBC, that is not what happened with Buffy.
Without repeating the news story, I will leave a link to the Fifth Estate YouTube, as well as to Buffy’s rebuttal at the end of my rant.
So, herein lies the problem for me.
Buffy, it appears, lied. A big fat lie, that she has perpetuated over many years.
And it irritates me to no end that she invented an entire fake early life. As an adopted Indigenous woman, I can tell you that foster care and adoption are traumatic. Truly not knowing where you belong is traumatic. Searching for a birth family, not knowing if they will accept you is traumatic. Fearing you might hurt your adoptive family in the process is traumatic.
Pretending to not know your ancestry, implying you have lived this trauma … it’s just too big a lie.
I do not argue that Buffy Sainte-Marie has done a ton of work for North American Indigenous people. She has been a role model and an ally. I am by no means trivializing the work she has done.
But there is a difference between being an ally and being Indigenous. Allies are willing to learn, reflect and recognize the challenges faced by Indigenous people. They work towards breaking down those barriers. But recognizing an issue exists isn’t the same as living a real experience. To pretend to be Indigenous when you are in fact a privileged settler is to trivialize the experiences of many Indigenous people.
As a fair skinned Indigenous person (yes, I have the receipts), I have not been subjected to many of the negative experiences of some of my cousins. But I have spent a lifetime having to prove I am who I say I am, so when a white woman lies, it gets me in my craw.
I have admired and respected Buffy Sainte-Marie since I was a child. I cannot simply flip a switch and turn off my deep rooted feelings. But now I know too much; and I am so frigging disappointed.
The Fifth Estate Buffy Sainte-Marie story: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eMsqCWNCUc4
Buffy Sainte-Marie defends herself https://www.facebook.com/BuffySainteMarie/videos/2059135034455911