Sacheen Littlefeather (Apache / Yaqui / Ariz.), The Native American actress and activist who took the stage at the 1973 Academy Awards to reveal that Marlon Brando would not accept his Oscar for The Godfather, is dead. She was 75 years old.

Littlefeather died Sunday at noon at her home in the northern California city of Novato, surrounded by loved ones, according to a statement sent by her caretaker. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which reconciled with Littlefeather in June and hosted a celebration of her in her honor just two weeks ago, revealed the news on social media Sunday night.

Littlefeather revealed in March 2018 that she had been diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer and had metastasized in recent years.

Brando had decided to boycott the March 1973 Oscars to protest the way Native Americans were portrayed on screen and to pay tribute to the ongoing occupation at Wounded Knee, in which 200 members of the American Indian Movement (AIM) have confronted thousands of American marshals and other federal agents in the South Dakota city.

After presenters Liv Ullmann and Roger Moore listed the nominees for Best Actor and Ullmann named Brando’s name as the winner, the telecast was cut to Littlefeather, then 26 and wearing a traditional Apache dress, walking on stage from his placed at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion as the announcer explained, “I accept the award for Marlon Brando and The GodfatherMiss Sacheen Feather.

Littlefeather, however, raised his right hand to refuse Moore’s offered statuette when he reached the podium and told Chandler’s audience and 85 million viewers watching at home that Brando “with great regret cannot accept this award very much. generous”.

Speaking in measured but off-the-cuff tones – Brando, who had told her not to touch the trophy, had given her an eight-page typed speech, but TV producer Howard Koch informed her she had no more than 60 seconds – continued. , “And the reasons for this are the treatment of American Indians today by the film industry … and on television in movie reruns, and also with the recent events at Wounded Knee.”

Littlefeather’s remarks were greeted in the building by a smattering of boos and cheers, but public sentiment soon after his appearance was largely negative. Some media outlets questioned her native heritage (her father was Apache and Yaqui and her mother was white) and claimed that she had rented her costume for the ceremony, while conservative celebrities including John Wayne, Clint Eastwood and Charlton Heston – three actors who had starred in many a western – reportedly criticized the actions of Brando and Littlefeather.

As he was becoming an indelible part of Oscar’s lore, Wayne “was behind the scenes, ready to have me taken off stage,” he told the Los Angeles Times in 2016. “He was to be held by six security guards.” It may not have been the case, an investigation showed.

Regardless, nearly 50 years later, the Academy asked her for an apology.

“The abuse you suffered as a result of this claim was unwarranted and unwarranted,” wrote her then AMPAS president David Rubin in a letter dated June 18. “The emotional burden you have experienced and the cost to your career in our industry are irreparable. For too long the courage you have shown has been ignored. For this, we offer our deepest apologies and our sincere admiration.”

“I was amazed. I never thought I’d survive to see the day I felt this, experienced this, “Littlefeather said. The Hollywood reporter. “When I was on the podium in 1973, I was there alone”.

Born Marie Louise Cruz on November 14, 1946 in the coastal town of Salinas, California, Littlefeather was raised primarily by her mother’s parents. She began exploring her native identity at Hayward’s California State University and participated in the native occupation to attempt to reclaim Alcatraz Island in 1969, and it was her fellow activist friends of hers who renamed her.

Shortly thereafter, Littlefeather received a full scholarship to study acting at the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco. “Dancing and acting was an escape from reality,” she said The Native American Times In 2010.

She has landed a few jobs in radio and television commercials (including Miss Vampire USA for a Dark shadows soap opera promotion) but found it difficult to land substantial roles in Hollywood: “Americans liked Sandra Dee’s blonde look. … I have had talking parts in Italian films because they liked the exotic.

In 1972, he participated in a program Playboy filming titled “Ten Little Indians” which were demolished prior to publication when the occupation began at Wounded Knee in February 1973. But after Littlefeather’s Oscar appearance, Playboy printed her photos as a feature in their own right, further discrediting her in the eyes of some people.

He had first met Brando a few years earlier when he was in Washington for a presentation at the FCC on race and minorities.

“In the 1970s, you had AIM and the Indian Civil Rights Movement and that was the part that I was in,” he said. “I have been a spokesperson, so to speak, for the Native American stereotype in movies and on television. All I was saying was, ‘We don’t want Chuck Connors to play Geronimo.’ “

When he told Brando he didn’t have an Oscars gown, “Marlon told me to wear my buckskin,” he said in the 2018 documentary. Sacheen: Break the silence.

Three months after the Oscars, Brando appeared The Dick Cavett Show and said he “was embarrassed for Sacheen. He was unable to say what he meant, and I was saddened that people were whistling and trampling even though maybe he was meant for myself. They should at least have had the courtesy to listen to her.

Although Brando’s stunt had the intended effect of renewing attention on Wounded Knee, Littlefeather said it put her life at risk and killed her acting career, claiming she lost her guild membership. and was banned from the industry. (Additionally, the Academy subsequently banned winners from sending proxies to accept – or decline – prizes on their behalf.)

“I was blacklisted – or, you could say, ‘redlisted,'” Littlefeather said in his documentary. “Johnny Carson, Dick Cavett and others didn’t want me in their plans. … The doors were well closed, never to reopen “.

Littlefeather has managed to appear in a handful of films (The trial of Billy Jack, Johnny Cloud of Fire And Hawk in winter among them) before quitting acting forever and earning a holistic health degree from the University of Antioch with a minor in Native American medicine. Her welfare work included writing a health column for the Kiowa Tribe Journal in Oklahoma, teaching in the traditional Indian medicine program at St. Mary’s Hospital in Tucson, Arizona, and working with Mother Teresa. for AIDS patients in the Bay Area. He would go on to serve as a founding member of the board of directors of the American Indian AIDS Institute in San Francisco.

Littlefeather also continued her involvement in the arts, co-founding the nonprofit National American Indian Performing Arts Registry in the early 1980s, advising on multiple PBS programs, and continuing to be an advocate for Native American inclusion. in Hollywood (she appeared in the 2009 documentary Injun coil).

“I was the first black woman to make a political statement in Academy Awards history,” Littlefeather said in Sacheenand at the time, Coretta Scott King and Cesar Chavez were among the few who publicly praised her Oscar speech.

But over the decades, her onstage defense proved to be a precursor to the conversation about diversity in Hollywood that continues to this day, and Jada Pinkett Smith cited it as inspiration for her own boycott of the 2016 Academy Awards. #OscarsSoWhite).

The two exchanged emails at that time, with Smith writing, “Thank you for being one of the brave and brave ones to help pave the way for those of us who need to remember the importance of simply being true.”

Littlefeather will be buried next to her husband, Charles Koshiway (Otoe / Sac & Fox), in Red Rock, Oklahoma. Koshiway died of blood cancer in November 2021. The two met 32 ​​years ago during a pow wow at the University of California at Davis.

“The night before our meeting, I dreamed I was introduced to this handsome Indian man, who raised his white Stetson cowboy hat and spoke with this very soft Oklahoma accent: ‘How’s the rate?’ “ she said THR in August. “The next day, my roommate and I went to UC Davis pow wow and under this white Stetson cowboy hat was this very handsome Indian man, and the first thing he did was lift his hat, look into my eyes and say: ‘How are you? That’s all it took. The man of my dreams”.

After receiving the Academy’s apology, Littlefeather said of her late husband: “His spirit is still here with me and I know what he wanted for me was always justice and reconciliation.” And two weeks before her death, when she took the Academy stage for the second time in her life, on the occasion of the museum’s celebration in her honor, she knew her death was imminent: ” I’m going through the spirit world soon. And you know, I’m not afraid of dying. Because we come from a we / we / our company. We are not from a me / me / myself company. And we learn to give from an early age. When we are honored, we give ”.

A Catholic requiem mass for her will be held this month at St. Rita’s Church in Fairfax, California, with a reception to follow. Littlefeather requested that donations be made to the American Indian Childhood Resource Center of Oakland.

In his last public appearance, he spoke again on behalf of all indigenous peoples: “I am here to accept this apology, not just for me alone but as a recognition, knowing that it was not only for me, but for all our nations that also I need to hear and deserve this apology tonight. Look at our people. Look at each other and be proud that you survived, all of us. Please, when I am gone, always remember that whenever you stand up for your truth, you will keep my voice and the voices of our nations and our people alive.

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