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CBC report questions singer Buffy Sainte-Marie’s claims of Indigenous heritage

The report found a birth certificate that appears to show she was born to white parents in Stoneham.

Buffy Sainte-Marie celebrates her Juno for Indigenous Music Album of the Year at the Juno Gala Dinner and Awards show March, 24, 2018, in Vancouver, British Columbia.Jonathan Hayward/Associated Press

The CBC released a new investigation on Friday calling into question the long-held claims of Indigenous heritage by acclaimed singer-songwriter Buffy Sainte-Marie.

According to her official biography, Sainte-Marie says she was “believed to have been born in 1941 on the Piapot First Nation reserve in Saskatchewan,” and was adopted by a white couple who raised her in Massachusetts and Maine. However, the Canadian public news outlet’s investigation uncovered a birth certificate from Stoneham that appears to show she was born in the Massachusetts town to her supposed adopted parents, Albert and Winifred Santamaria, with the document listing them as white.


The CBC report and accompanying documentary featured additional documents and interviews with members of Sainte-Marie’s family who also refuted her claims of Indigenous identity, saying she is actually an American with Italian and English ancestry.

“Buffy was not adopted,” Heidi St. Marie, Sainte-Marie’s niece, told CBC. “I don’t know how or when she started to create her story. But at this point, she’s just raised in a Caucasian family.”

Sainte-Marie refuted the report in a video message shared on her Instagram Friday.

“For 60 years, I’ve been sharing my story as I know it,” Sainte-Marie said. “I’m an artist, an activist, a mom, a survivor, and a proud member of the Native community with deep roots in Canada.”

Sainte-Marie goes on to say that she has always been upfront about the open questions around her family history, adding that there were many things she didn’t know about her past.

“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,” said Sainte-Marie. “But I realized decades ago that I would never have the answers to these questions.”


Sainte-Marie has earned acclaim over the years for her work as an artist, educator, and activist, often focusing on issues affecting Indigenous communities. She earned an Academy Award in 1983 for Best Original Song for “Up Where We Belong,” featured in the film “An Officer and a Gentleman,” and was honored by Canada’s National Arts Centre last year with a star-studded concert.

Sainte-Marie, who announced her retirement from live performances in August, isn’t the first person to face scrutiny in Canada or elsewhere over their claims of Indigenous identity.

Last year, Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, a prominent Canadian law professor and First Nations political advisor, was the subject of a similar investigation. In March of 2021, Massachusetts’ Fruitlands Museum postponed an exhibition of work by Native American artists due to questions over the show’s co-curator, Gina Adams, and her claims of Indigenous descent.

Matt Juul can be reached at