A group of Indigenous women says the International Emmy Award for a documentary about folk legend Buffy Sainte-Marie, whose First Nations ancestry has been called into question, feels like a “slap in the face.”
“Documentaries are supposed to present factual information,” the Indigenous Women’s Collective, which describes itself as mothers, grandmothers, academics and activists advocating to stop colonial violence against Indigenous women, wrote Monday on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter.
“Pretendianism is an act of colonial violence and should never be celebrated.”
“Buffy Sainte-Marie: Carry It On,” a documentary made before doubts came to light about the singer’s Indigenous roots, won in the arts programming category.
Producers describe the film as a retrospective of Sainte-Marie’s life and career, including interviews with famous friends and colleagues, never-before-seen archival material and cinematic recreations.
The documentary, produced by Eagle Vision, White Pine Pictures and Paquin Entertainment, premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival last year and is available to stream on Crave, while the CBC piece is available on YouTube.
A statement by White Pine Pictures on its website expresses support for Sainte-Marie.
“We stand behind Buffy and believe it to be true that her mother told her she was adopted and of Canadian Indigenous descent.”
The Emmy Award is presented by the International Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, which has not responded to requests from The Canadian Press for comment.
The singer-songwriter’s ancestry was challenged in a CBC investigation last month that presented several identity documents and interviews with family members that suggested she was born in Stoneham, Mass., to white parents in 1941.
Sainte-Marie’s story of her birth, childhood and identity has shifted throughout her six-decade career, with her identifying as Algonquin and Mi’kmaq before saying she was Cree, adopted from a mother in Saskatchewan.
Sainte-Marie, 82, said in a statement the day before CBC’s story ran that she doesn’t know who her birth parents are or where she’s from, but called herself “a proud member of the Native community with deep roots in Canada.”
Last month, the women’s collective called for Sainte-Marie’s Juno Award for Indigenous album of the year to be rescinded.
“We invite the Juno Awards Committee to revisit this 2018 category and explore ways of righting a past wrong. All Indigenous artists in this 2018 category ? should be reconsidered for this rightful honour,” the collective said.
Some musicians have said they were disappointed to learn they may have lost career-shaping industry awards to someone who may be neither Indigenous nor Canadian. They say it amounted to lost opportunities at critical times in their careers.
Sainte-Marie has received numerous Junos, the $50,000 Polaris Music Prize in 2015 and a Polaris heritage award for her 1964 debut album “It’s My Way!,” among a slew of other honours.