Actress and Activist Sacheen Littlefeather died October 2, 2022 in her Novato, California home at the age of 75 as a result of breast cancer.
While she appeared in only a handful of productions, Littlefeather is best known for being the first Native American woman to take the stage of the Academy Awards…not to accept an award, but to refuse one. During the 1973 Academy Awards, Roger Moore named Marlon Brando as the winner of the Best Actor Award for his performance in “The Godfather”. Attired in traditional costume, Littlefeather was charged with refusing Brando’s award in protest of how Native Americans were treated in Hollywood and as a part of the protest over the events at Wounded Knee.
Long being known for its whitewashing of the annual awards, it wasn’t until recently that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences addressed the issue and issued an apology to Littlefeather over the way she was treated.
In a letter to Littlefeather, Academy President David Rubin said, “the abuse you endured because of this statement was unwarranted and unjustified. The emotional burden you have lived through and the cost to your own career in our industry are irreparable. For too long the courage you showed has been unacknowledged. For this, we offer both our deepest apologies and our sincere admiration.”
Littlefeather’s response to the letter was simple, “we Indians are very patient people — it’s only been 50 years!”
She added, “we need to keep our sense of humour about this at all times.”
Littlefeather made her acting debut in “Counselor at Crime” in 1973 and went on to appear in only six more productions – “The Laughing Policeman”, “The Trial of Billy Jack”, “Freebie and the Bean”, “Johnny Firecloud”, “Winterhawk”, and “Shoot the Sun Down” – before retiring from acting where she turned to working in hospice care.
She was born Marie Louis Cruz on November 14, 1946 in Salinas, California to an Apache and Yaqui father and a white mother. She chose the name Sacheen Littlefeather herself after graduating from high school – Sacheen was the name her father called her and Littlefeather was in reference to the feather she wore in her hair.
Her appearance on the Oscars stage was not her first turn at activism; she was a part of the Native American protest at Alcatraz Island in 1969.
Predeceased by her husband Charles Koshiway Johnston, the couple had no children and there was no list of survivors.
feature photo credit: Sacheen Littlefeather Oscar 45.jpg