The Other McCain

"One should either write ruthlessly what one believes to be the truth, or else shut up." — Arthur Koestler

Another ‘Pretendian’ Exposed

Posted on | November 27, 2023 | 1 Comment

This is deeply offensive to me, and should be offensive to everyone: The once-popular folk singer known as Buffy Sainte-Marie has spent decades fraudulently claiming to be of Native American ancestry. One of the telltale clues was that, at different times during the 1960s, she claimed ancestry from three different groups — first Algonquin, then Micmac, and finally Cree. In fact, as an extensive investigation by the Canadian Broadcasting Company (CBC) shows, “Buffy Sainte-Marie” is actually Beverly Jean Santamaria, born in Massachusetts to a family that was Italian on her father’s side and Anglo-American on her mother’s side. Early in her musical career, she began telling reporters that she had been adopted — a claim conclusively refuted by her birth certificate — and further claimed that her adoptive family had changed their surname from Santamaria to “Sainte-Marie” because of anti-Italian prejudice in the 1940s. This might surprise some of her surviving relatives in Massachusetts who still call themselves by the family name:

Bruce Santamaria said his family told him Sainte-Marie’s claim that she was adopted was incorrect.
“We were told flat out that she was my Uncle Albert’s child,” he said.
Despite the family’s concerns, his aunts and uncles followed Sainte-Marie’s career with passion and were proud of her, Bruce Santamaria, 61, said.
“She was a really talented musician,” he said. “And she was also authentic in her support for the Native Americans. She really cared about them. She was a voice for them.”
He said the family believed her claim to Indigenous ancestry was some sort of publicity stunt.
Whispers began to swirl that Sainte-Marie had threatened family members, including her own brother, with legal action or worse if they publicly questioned her ancestry claims.

Why did she lie? A hint can be found in a detail from the CBC account: Buffy’s brother Alan St. Marie served as a pilot in the Air Force and later became a commercial pilot. In the mid-1970s, he was greeting passengers one day after landing a flight in New York, and was surprised to see Buffy among the passengers. She was accompanied by a producer for PBS, and introductions were made, as Alan’s daughter explained to CBC:

Weeks later, that PBS producer called Alan to confirm that he was, in fact, Sainte-Marie’s biological brother.
Heidi St. Marie said the producer told her dad he didn’t appear to be Indigenous. Alan had light-coloured hair.
Alan told the producer he and Sainte-Marie were white and shared the same parents. St. Marie said her dad didn’t think much more about that call until Nov. 7, 1975, when a letter from a Los Angeles law firm arrived in his mailbox.
“This firm represents Buffy Sainte-Marie,” said the letter from a lawyer who had represented the likes of the Rolling Stones and the Beach Boys.
“We have been advised that you have without provocation disparaged and perhaps defamed Buffy and maliciously interfered with her employment opportunities,” the letter said. It said if he continued, Buffy would “spare no expense in pursuing any and all of her legal remedies.”

It so happened that Buffy Sainte-Marie was angling to get a gig on Sesame Street, based on her (fake) Native American identity, which was the basis of the lawyer’s accusation that her brother was interfering “with her employment opportunities,” simply for telling the truth.

But notice something — Buffy’s brother was fair-complected with light-colored hair, whereas Buffy is swarthy. Probably this explains her creation of a fictional Native persona. Was she insecure about her appearance? Was she ashamed of being half-Italian? In any family, some children will favor either their father or their mother more strongly, and Buffy more closely resembled her Italian father. Rather than to present herself honestly, she instead fabricated a more “exotic” explanation for her dark features, and thus hit upon the myth of herself as an adopted Native girl. And while this may have been “some sort of publicity stunt,” as her relatives say, it is both dishonest and offensive.

What’s wrong with being white, huh? This was part of what I hated about Elizabeth Warren and her “high cheekbones” nonsense about being part Cherokee. While I would expect that anyone of genuine Cherokee ancestry would be proud of who they were, the fakery of “Fauxcahontas” Warren implies that there’s something shameful — some inferiority — in merely being white. What inspires most such fakery, I believe, is that so few Americans know anything about their actual genealogy.

No one is generically “white.” This classification is simply too large to function as the basis of a meaningful ethnic identity. Every white person in America is a descendant of people from specific places, but most Americans nowadays can’t even tell you their grandmother’s maiden name, and have done zero research into their family tree. While Americans of Irish Catholic ancestry, or those descended from Ellis Island-era immigrants, may have a certain ethnic chauvinism about their particular identity, generic Anglo-American white people — descended from the colonial era “Old Stock” — seldom view themselves as having any distinct ethnic heritage. Unless you’re a Hyphenated American, you’re just a mayonnaise-on-Wonder-Bread sandwich of whiteness.

This attitude is harmful in many ways, and one of its consequences is that some white people feel a compulsion to create fictional identities, if not to exploit the “diversity” quota system (which seems to have been Elizabeth Warren’s motive), then to have an “exotic” identity that strikes them as more interesting than the bland vanilla identity of generic whiteness.

But is it boring to be a descendant of Rollo the Viking or Colonel John Bolling? These are just a couple of the eminent individuals in my own family tree, and who knows how many other extraordinary connections might be discovered if I ever did a complete genealogy? Everybody has eight great-grandparents, 16 great-great-grandparents, etc., so that if you can trace your ancestry back seven or eight generations, that’s more than 100 different lineages, and certainly some of them must be at least interesting, if perhaps not illustrious. Somehow, though, most people would rather be ignorant of their forebears, and in that sense, really don’t know who they are. This ignorance is, I believe, a crucial factor in leading people to manufacture fake identities, not just as fake Indians, but also such bizarre identities as “Queen of the Lost Continent of Lemuria.”



One Response to “Another ‘Pretendian’ Exposed”

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