Artist’s ‘dirty-dealing, ruthless, low-down’ treatment of her family ‘tells me all I need to know,’ says letter writer
What sticks out to me in the Buffy Sainte-Marie story is not that she has allegedly impersonated a native — which does not come as a big surprise — but what an old meanie she seems to be.
Being a ‘pretendian’ raises a number of ethical issues but it is nothing new (Grey Owl, Joseph Boyden etc.) and it is an interesting phenomenon, revealing yet another aspect of human nature and the lengths people will go to for gain and gratification.
In Sainte-Marie’s case, I suspect she found herself competing with superior talents such as Joni Mitchell and Joan Baez and needed a way to distinguish herself and maintain a foothold in the music industry. Not only would ‘being native’ provide her a distinctive look and sound, it would give her a social and political platform to keep her in the spotlight. You can see how a duplicitous, shameless, ambitious person might be tempted.
Championing native rights while she was at it had the added value of justifying her behaviour and easing her conscience, but is one of the giveaways that she is not native. Generally speaking, natives, and I am speaking of native culture in its purest form, are not interested in self-promotion or celebrity, and the only rights they champion are those of the earth and the natural world.
Of course exposure to the white man and non-native lifestyles has diluted native culture and influenced native attitudes. Interestingly, it is the white man who tried to take native culture away and it is the white man who is now trying to give it back, which is another form of interference that may well result in further muddle.
But when it comes to the human condition there will always be mess and muddle. And when it comes to deciding who Buffy Sainte-Marie is I tend to throw out the native/white issue and use something more fundamental — the good guys/bad guys rule. For whether a person is white, black or brown, red, green or blue is, in the end, irrelevant. What matters is whether they are one of the good guys or one of the bad guys.
This criteria is also imperfect since no one is entirely good or bad, but whether a person tries to be a decent human being or not is the true basis of their identity. (In an aside, this includes gender identification. Gender, like skin colour, is not a raison d’etre or identity in itself. Nobody folds their arms when they’re born and says well I am male or I’m female, so that’s it, I don’t have to do anything else with my life, just endlessly draw attention to my gender.)
And based on the good guys/bad guys rule, Buffy (Beverley) Sainte-Marie’s treatment of her family, especially (as revealed in the recent CBC documentary), threatening to accuse her brother of sexual abuse if he dared to expose her — a dirty-dealing, ruthless, low-down thing to do — tells me all I need to know about who Buffy Sainte-Marie is.