Native American Activist Sacheen Littlefeather, died Sunday at the age of 75. She made history when she turned down Marlon Brando’s Oscar at the 1973 Academy Awards. Littlefeather died around noon in her home in Novato, California, surrounded by people she loved, said the person who took care of her. Since at least 2018, she has been fighting breast cancer, which has spread in recent years.
Her death happened just two weeks after she was honored by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. At that event, she talked about how she knew she was going to die soon. She said at the event, “I’m going to the spirit world soon, and I’m not afraid to die.” “Because we live in a “we,” “us,” and “our” society. We’re not from a “me/I/me” culture. And we learn to give from the time we are very young. When we are respected, we help others.”
The Academy apologized to Littlefeather in June for how it treated her after the 1973 Oscars. They told her about her death on Sunday night. Littlefeather, who was 26 at the time, went to the awards ceremony instead of Brando, who skipped them to protest how Hollywood portrayed and treated Native Americans and to show support for the American Indian Movement’s occupation of Wounded Knee, which was still going on at the time.
On stage, the activist, who was also an actress, turned down the Oscar Brando had won for “The Godfather” and gave a speech about how Native Americans were being treated because he asked her to. Littlefeather, dressed in traditional Apache clothes, told the crowd of stars at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion and the 86 million people watching at home that Brando would not be there to accept the award.
Littlefeather said to a mix of cheers and boos, “He very much regrets that he can’t accept this very generous award. The reasons for this are the way American Indians are treated by the film industry and on TV in movie reruns today, as well as the recent events at Wounded Knee.”
Brando gave her a speech that he had written that was eight pages long, but she didn’t have time to read it all at the awards ceremony. Three days later, the full speech was written up in the New York Times. After she showed up, Littlefeather got a lot of negative attention from the media and conservative Hollywood elites. She later said that the stunt was the end of her acting career because her guild membership was taken away and she was basically blacklisted from the business.
In a 2018 documentary about her life, Littlefeather said, “I was blacklisted, or you could say I was “redlisted.” “Johnny Carson, Dick Cavett, and other people didn’t want me on their shows… The doors were shut tight and would never be opened again.” In June of this year, nearly 50 years after the incident, she finally got an apology from the Academy.
In a June 18 letter to Littlefeather, David Rubin, who was president of AMPAS at the time, said, “The abuse you got because of this statement was unwarranted and unfair.” “The emotional stress you’ve been under and the damage to your career in our field are both irreparable.”
Rubin said he was sorry and gave the activist high marks. “For too long, no one has noticed how brave you were,” he said. “For this, we offer our deepest apologies as well as our deepest respect.”
Littlefeather was surprised by the Academy’s apology. “I was speechless. Littlefeather told The Hollywood Reporter in August, “I never thought I’d live to hear this or go through this.” “When I was on the stage in 1973, I was the only one there.” Last month, the Academy held an evening of reflection at the Academy Museum with Littlefeather as the guest of honor.
At the ceremony, she said, “I am here to accept this apology not just for myself, but also as an acknowledgment that it was not just for me, but for all of our nations, who also need to hear and deserve this apology tonight.” “Take a look at us. Look at each other and be proud that we all made it through.
Marie Louise Cruz was born on November 14, 1946, in Salinas, California. Her mother was white, and her father was Apache and Yaqui. She was mostly raised by her maternal grandparents. When she went to college at California State University, she met other activists who helped her change her name.
She took part in the Native American occupation of Alcatraz Island in 1969 and was president of the National Native American Affirmative Image Committee while she was working as an actress.
Later, Littlefeather left Hollywood and went into holistic health, where she focused on traditional Native medicines. She also helped start the non-profit National American Indian Performing Arts Registry in the 1980s. Throughout her life, she fought for more Native American actors in Hollywood.
Jessa Martin is the author of Nogmagazine, A professional in writing by day, and novelist by night, she received her bachelor of arts in film from Howard University and her master of arts in media studies from the New School. A Brooklyn native, she is a lover of naps, cookie dough, and beaches, currently residing in the borough she loves, most likely multitasking.