Focusing on the achievements of famous indigenous Canadians is an important undertaking. Doing so helps balance their historical marginalization, even oppression, with recognition of their many current accomplishments in various fields, including politics, artistic expression, and athletics.Promoting the contribution of famous aboriginals who often serve as needed role models for their people in these and other fields can help counter negative stereotypes unfairly painting all indigenous people with the same broad brush. Arguably, the most famous of these role models, not only in Canada but elsewhere as well, is Buffy Sainte-Marie, a celebrated singer-songwriter and activist.Claiming to hail from the Piapot Cree First Nation Reserve in Saskatchewan, Canada, she is widely known for her resonant voice and thought-provoking verses tackling contentious indigenous, environmental, and political issues.In a just released blockbuster report, the CBC claims though there is no proof Sainte-Marie has any indigenous ancestry, there is lots of evidence she is 100% European in pedigree.In its meticulously researched and detailed story titled Who is the real Buffy Sainte-Marie?, the network reveals that members of her own family have long challenged the iconic singer-songwriter’s claims to aboriginal ancestry, assertions affirmed and expanded on by the extensive CBC investigation.Indigenous scholars like Kim TallBear, a professor of Native studies at the University of Alberta, say it’s unacceptable for non-Indigenous people to speak for Indigenous people and take honours set aside for them.Saint-Marie has certainly accumulated lots of honours including: being the first indigenous person to win an Oscar for co-writing music for the movie An Officer and a Gentleman; numerous indigenous music awards, including four Canadian Aboriginal Music Awards, two Aboriginal Peoples’ Choice Music Awards, four Junos designated for indigenous people; four indigenous lifetime achievement awards; a companion of the Order of Canada, the country’s highest civilian honour; honorary doctorates from at least a dozen universities; and appearance on a Canadian stamp in 2021.Though a gifted artist, Saint-Marie has spent her whole career playing up her indigenous status.According to the CBC investigation, her indigenous birth status was contradicted late last year when a tipster provided CBC with a copy of what appeared to be Sainte-Marie’s birth certificate, obtained from a small town hall in Massachusetts, later verified as accurate.That record said Beverly Jean Santamaria, who started going by the name Buffy Sainte-Marie early in her music career, was born in 1941 in Stoneham, Mass., north of Boston, to Albert and Winifred Santamaria — the couple Saint-Marie claimed adopted her.Mother, father, and baby are all listed as white.Saint-Marie has constantly challenged this fact. “I was told that I was adopted. I was told that I was just born ‘on the wrong side of the blanket.’ In other words, one of my parents was my parent and one wasn’t. I was told that we were part-Indian, but nobody knew anything about it,” she is quoted as saying.For many years, Sainte-Marie claimed she was born on the Piapot Indian Reserve near Regina. She was subsequently adopted by a Massachusetts couple, Albert and Winifred Santamaria, who raised her to adulthood. She claims that she reunited with her Piapot relatives and adopted into the community only later in life.“She wasn’t born in Canada.… She’s clearly born in the United States,” said Heidi St. Marie, daughter of Sainte-Marie’s older brother, Alan. “She’s clearly not Indigenous or Native American.”As well as being supported by her birth certificate, “The [CBC] investigation also shows that her account of her ancestry has been a shifting narrative, full of inconsistencies and inaccuracies.”These “inconsistencies and inaccuracies” include her contradictory assertion of knowing and not knowing who her birth mother was to her shifting identification of being “born a Micmac (Mi’kmaq) Indian in Maine,” to “half-Micmac by birth,” to “a full-blooded Algonquin Indian,” to being “born of Cree Indian parents.”According to the CBC report, “In the space of those 10 months [in 1963], she was referred to as Algonquin, full-blooded Algonquin, Mi’kmaq, half-Mi’kmaq and Cree.”These shifting identities are hard to take seriously given that the Mi’kmaq live on the East Coast, Algonquin people are from Ontario and northern Quebec, and Cree people are primarily from the Prairies. As for her assertion about being adopted into the Piapot Indian Reserve, though it has some factual credibility, it does not make Saint-Marie indigenous, according to TallBear.“I don’t think anyone is probably going to disrespect their decision to continue claiming her as kin,” said TallBear.However, she said, Sainte-Marie’s ancestry claims went well beyond her adoption by the Piapots. “That does not contradict or make up for five decades of fabrication of one’s story of origin, one’s childhood, the disavowal of one’s biological family,” said TallBear.The search for the facts about Sainte-Marie’s origin story contains one large hole: no written documentation.In an interview with the Rogue Folk Club in January 2017, Sainte-Marie said she had asked a Cree lawyer friend to find her Canadian birth certificate. Despite an unsuccessful search, Sainte-Marie said they learned “that six years of birth records were destroyed at the hospital that would have been servicing Piapot Reserve at the time in Craven.”According to the Saskatchewan government, it has “no record of a hospital operating in Craven, Sask., in the 1940s or since.” It also said that since the 1920s, birth records were stored in secure government facilities, not in town halls or on reserves.“We are also unaware of any records destroyed by fire or flood, or missing for any other reason,” the province said in an email to CBC.In her email to CBC, Sainte-Marie’s lawyer said many adoption records were destroyed by Canadian governments, prompting the CBC to ask the Saskatchewan government if any adoption records dating back to the 1920s have gone missing.“No. All adoptions that occurred within the province of Saskatchewan have an adoption record on file with the Ministry of Social Services,” the government said.During a 2022 interview, Sainte-Marie told a CBC radio host her adoption records are inaccessible.“The records are sealed. You don’t get to find out anything.”However, Saskatchewan’s Ministry of Social Services told CBC that since 2017, adult adoptees can easily access their birth records.Even Saint-Marie herself confirmed that she was born in the United States.In March 1982, she signed a marriage certificate, making her union with Hollywood composer Jack Nitzsche official. On the certificate obtained from the County of Los Angeles, Saint-Marie certified that she was born on February 20, 1941, in Massachusetts to Albert and Winifred Sainte-Marie.All her living biological relatives contacted by the CBC have denied that Saint-Marie is anything other than an American woman with European parents.As for Saint-Marie, her latest statement on October 26 equivocally claims, “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. To those who question my truth, I say with love, I know who I am.”Sainte-Marie, now in her early ’80s, said she was contacted last month by CBC and called allegations about her identity “deeply hurtful.”Saint-Marie seems about to join a growing list of high-profile public figures whose fake ancestry claims — a lucrative and status-enhancing phenomenon called Pretendianism — has been contradicted by genealogical records, including their own birth certificates, other archival research, and personal accounts.Saint-Marie’s story fits an all-too-familiar pattern that has been repeatedly exposed in recent years. According to Métis lawyer Jean Teillet of Vancouver, for decades, non-indigenous people have been falsely claiming indigenous ancestry: “They’re taking that opportunity from a real Indigenous person…. It’s prestige, it’s money, it’s grants and awards and positions and work that they would never have gotten otherwise.” Hymie Rubenstein is editor of REAL Indigenous Report and a retired professor of anthropology, the University of Manitoba.