Native American activist and actor Sacheen Littlefeather died on October 2, Sunday. Littlefeather had been reportedly suffering from breast cancer. Sacheen Littlefeather, during the 1973 Academy Awards, declined Marlon Brando’s Oscar on his behalf for The Godfather, dies at 75.
She has been the staunch voice against the film industry’s portrayal of the Native American tribes of the United States.
Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences two weeks before issued an apology to Littlefeather after 50 years and also hosted a celebration in her honour. Academy on Twitter mourn her demise on Sunday night.
Who was Sacheen Littlefeather?
Sacheen Littlefeather was born as Marie Louise Cruz in Salinas, California in 1946 to a Native American father (Apache and Yaqui) and European American mother. Cruz grew her interest in Native American issues during her college and partook in the 1970 occupation of Alcatraz Island. She adopted her Sacheen Littlefeather name during this time.
After graduating actor joined Screen Actors Guild (SAG) and reportedly met Brando there, who was also active in protesting rights for Native Americans. Littlefeather acted in films like The Trial of Billy Jack (1974) and Shoot the Sun Down (1978),
Winterhawk (1975), Reel Injun (2009), and Sacheen: Breaking the Silence (2018), but she dedicated most of her life to activism and work in theatre and health care.
She also became a respected member of California’s Native American community. Littlefeather in her healthcare career campaigned against obesity, alcoholism, and diabetes, and helped Native Americans with AIDS. Littlefeather’s brother had reportedly died of AIDS. Littlefeather influenced by her brother’s death, start work for AIDS awareness among Native Americans.
In the 1973 Oscars controversy, Littlefeather was supposed to accept the oscar for Brando and deliver her speech on Native American rights in 60 seconds.
A few of her lines were, “He very regretfully cannot accept this very generous award. Because of the treatment of American Indians today by the film industry, and on television in movie reruns, and also with recent happenings at Wounded Knee.”
The long form of the speech was later printed in New York Times newspaper. She was criticized by a few in the audience as well as the host of the event for disrupting the ceremony. Later as Littlefeather claims, she was blacklisted from Hollywood as collateral damage to her Oscars address.
Academy apologised to Littlefeather at the Academy Museum on September 17 in an event. The Academy said that the abuse you endured was unwarranted and unjustified. The emotional burden you have lived through and the cost to your career in our industry are irreparable.
In response, Littlefeather released a statement in which she said, “We Indians are very patient people. It’s only been 50 years! We need to keep our sense of humor about this at all times. It’s our method of survival.”