Response to Buffy Sainte-Marie letter

Submitted by the Friday Harbor Film Festival

The recent letter to the editor regarding Friday Harbor Film Festival’s documentary Buffy Sainte-Marie: Carry It On highlights the ongoing controversies surrounding indigenous rights and identity. However, more context is needed. This film was screened at the 2023 Friday Harbor Film Festival just days after the Canadian Broadcast Corporation (CBC) released an investigative report questioning Buffy Sainte-Marie’s heritage and ethnicity.

There is much that is not known, and much that is contested about her background, as is the case for many Native Americans. The film highlights her accomplishments as an artist and as an activist for indigenous rights and social justice, using her career as a platform to advocate for indigenous peoples.

The film was voted an audience choice favorite at the 2023 Friday Harbor Film Festival, and as such is included in our 2024 Best of the Fest program. A key component of the Friday Harbor Film Festival is to encourage discussion and discourse among filmmakers and audience members and to provide opportunities to explore complex issues and express differing opinions.

The issues surrounding indigenous identity and cultural appropriation are not to be taken lightly. In Buffy’s case, she was fully adopted into a Cree family, and her contributions to social justice and advocacy are without question.

In the Friday Harbor Film Festival interview with Executive Director Kyle Irving, he said of the controversy: “I’m not sure if anyone knows the real truth about that story. I’ve seen the documentary film [CBC] challenging her indigenous identity. I think there is a lot of information in that film that is important to consider…. That being said, I’m not sure even Buffy knows the real truth. Having known Buffy for more than 15 years, I believe that she believes that she is an indigenous person and always has … that is what she believes to be her truth. She has conducted herself throughout her life as if she is [indigenous], and it is pretty hard to argue with all the selfless work that she has done to lift up that community, raise awareness around it, and give voice to a lot of people who otherwise did not have voices. I would like to suggest that she opened the door and laid the path for a lot more indigenous artists to come into the forefront and share their stories. I understand the controversy… I understand the pain it causes a lot of people. But it is pretty hard to take away from a woman who is now in her eighties and has done so much for so many people for so long.”

We encourage everyone to learn more about the issues raised. Begin by watching the documentary yourself. It will be streamed FREE this Wednesday, Feb. 28 at 6:30 pm PST on Plan to attend future Best of Fest screenings and participate in thoughtful discussion after each film.

Friday Harbor Film Festival