Exposing a fraud or unfair takedown?

By Ivan Morgan
November 3, 2023 Edition

Like most of you, I am a mutt.
My father’s mother was Russian (hence the Ivan) his Dad was a New Zealander by way of Wales (hence the Morgan), my Mom’s Dad was a fifth generation Newfoundlander by way of Scotland, and my Mom’s mother was American (by way of Germany).
As I said, a mutt.
Most of you have a similar story. We are who we are.
I mention this because I was shocked this week when CBC ran a convincing story saying that Buffy Sainte-Marie, world famous Oscar winning indigenous singer-songwriter and activist, may indeed not be indigenous. In short, the piece implies she faked being indigenous to further her career.
I have a connection with her. Way back in the sad legacy that was my career, I was working for a local indigenous organization. One of my federal colleagues put a bug in my ear about Saint-Marie’s willingness to help raise funds. I pitched the idea to my bosses, and they said go for it.
I got her number and called her, and she was all about coming to help out. Fabulous! I organized a concert.
It was 1990 and she was still a huge international star. Normally we couldn’t possibly have afforded to bring her here, but she waived her fee, paid for the band, and asked us only to pay airfare and accommodations.
When I met her, she was wearing the dress of what she said was her Cree ancestry. She was stunningly beautiful and had an extremely strong presence. I soon saw she was also a warm, down to earth, no-nonsense person. She wanted to meet all the local indigenous folk. Not just the local dignitaries, who muscled their way into an introduction (people are people, regardless of their heritage) but the street people, the down-and-outers, the mentally ill folks I worked with every day. She was genuine in her joy in meeting them. She wanted them at the show and invited a lot of them backstage. What a difference she made to many of them.
Her concert was unforgettable. Her music was powerful, and she spoke passionately and at length about the plight of indigenous people all over the world. It was a memorable night.
(As a side note, her band was most of the members of Red Rider, Tom Cochrane’s band at the time. Great guys but obsessed with the Toronto Blue Jays who were in the semi finals. I had to arrange for TVs to be in the wings of the stage so they could watch the game while they played.)
Now we learn she may never have been who she said she was.
A CBC Fifth Estate investigation reports she was born Beverly Jean Santamaria in 1941 in Stoneham, Massachusetts to Albert and Winifred Santamaria — the couple Sainte-Marie claimed adopted her. The story shows evidence she was not adopted.
Ms. Saint-Marie is now 82, retired from performing and in poor health. She has raised a strong objection to these revelations, but as a journalist I can say the evidence presented seems pretty conclusive.
I am not defending what she may or may not have done, or people’s reactions. I worked for years at an aboriginal organization, so I have a small understanding of the plight of indigenous people in this province, let alone the rest of the world.
I am asking questions.
Was it all a scam? Or did she come to believe she really was indigenous? I have been in and around politics long enough to see people begin to believe their own press, people who will stoop to nothing to further their career, take every advantage real and faked, and protect their public image, regardless of the truth of who they are. Is this what she did? As CBC said, these kinds of stories can be “remarkably complicated.”
It seems a terrible thing. Some indigenous groups have spoken out in anger. Some are rallying behind her. As my daughter said, I have no lines in this play. I am not indigenous and cannot say what the impact of this is to their communities.
I only ask: Has she done damage to indigenous communities? Has everything she has ever done, all the good, all the awareness, all the love and positivity, now been erased by this truth?

Ivan Morgan can be reached at ivan.morgan@gmail.com

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