Sacheen Littlefeather is not Native American, the sisters claim

Native American writer Jacqueline Keeler published an article in the San Francisco Chronicle alleging that Littlefeather co-opted Native American ancestors to further her entertainment career.

After taking the stage in place of Marlon Brando at the 1973 Academy Awards, Sacheen Littlefeather became known as one of the most prominent activists in the entertainment industry for Native Americans and other Indigenous peoples. Rather than accept Brando’s Best Actor Oscar, which he just won for his performance in The Godfather, Littlefeather, who died earlier this month, turned down the award and used her time on stage to dig into Hollywood’s treatment of Native Americans and criticize off screen. The move sparked some outrage, prompting the Academy to make a belated apology to Littlefeather earlier this year.

As she took the stage, her first words were, “Hello. My name is Sacheen Littlefeather. I’m Apache.” But a new report suggests that may not have been true.

In a bombastic story by Native American journalist Jacqueline Keeler for the San Francisco Chronicle, Littlefeather’s sisters Rosalind Cruz and Trudy Orlandi claim that the activist wasn’t actually Native American.

“That’s a lie,” Orlandi said of Littlefeather’s claimed heritage. “My father was who he was. His family came from Mexico. And my father was born in Oxnard.”

Cruz added. “It’s disgusting to the heritage of tribal peoples. And it’s just… an insult to my parents.”

Both sisters personally identify as Spanish and accuse Littlefeather of fabricating their indigenous backstory to further their entertainment careers. After her speech at the 1973 Oscars, she played Native American characters in several films, including The Trial of Billy Jack, Johnny Firecloud, and Winterhawk. She remained a visible activist until her death in October 2022.

I mean, you’re not going to become a Mexican-American princess,” Orlandi said. You will be an Indian princess. In her eyes, being a Native American was more prestigious than being Hispanic.”

The Littlefeather sisters claim that she lied about a lot more than her origins. Throughout her life, she claimed that her father was a violent alcoholic who abused their mother, a claim both sisters deny. Both say that many of the stories she shared from their childhood actually happened to their father during his childhood, and she passed them on as if they happened to her.

My father’s father, George, he was the alcoholic. My father never drank,” Orlandi said. “My father never smoked. And you know, she beat him up too and said my father was mentally ill. My father was not mentally ill.”

Littlefeather also claimed to have been present at the occupation of Alcatraz, a 19-month protest against the infamous prison that began in 1969. During the protest, Indigenous activists occupied the island to simulate what they believe white colonists did to them when they land in America. But LaNada Warjack, one of the student activists who arranged the protest, denied Littlefeather was ever there.

“We never really knew her until Oscar night,” Warjack said.

The allegations come amid an overwhelmingly positive reappraisal of Littlefeather’s legacy, with the Academy recently holding an event in her honor and issuing an apology claiming Littlefeather “made a strong statement that continues to remind us of the need for respect and the… Importance reminds of human dignity”.

IndieWire reached out to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for comment.

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https://www.indiewire.com/2022/10/sacheen-littlefeather-not-native-american-sisters-claim-1234775271/ Sacheen Littlefeather is not Native American, the sisters claim

Lindsay Lowe

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