The San Francisco Chronicle published an investigative report Saturday that claims Oscars and Native American icon Sacheen Littlefeather – best known for her appearance on behalf of Marlon Brando to refuse his Best Actor Academy Award for The Godfather — was not who she claimed to be.
Her sisters said in the article that Littlefeather, who died earlier this month shortly after receiving an official apology from the Academy, was not of Apache heritage, but rather half-Mexican. They also said she did not grow up with an abusive father, or in terrible poverty.
Littlefeather’s sisters, Orlandi and Rosalind Cruz, approached Native American journalist and activist Jacqueline Keeler to tell their story. Keeler is known for co-creating the #NotYourMascot hashtag in 2013, which brought about a name change for the NFL’s Washington team. She also authors a “Pretendians” list, exposing people who make false claims of American Indian heritage.
The Chronicle article said Littlefeather was born Marie Louise Cruz (nicknamed “Deb”) to a mother who had white heritage and Mexican on her father’s side. The sisters claim that their goal in coming forward is to restore their father’s good name, saying he “never drank” and was not mentally ill, refuting her sister’s claims.
Littlefeather wore traditional clothing at the 1973 Oscars ceremony, making a statement about Hollywood’s treatment of Native Americans. She later said she was blacklisted from the industry.
The Academy’s recent apology to Littlefeather said that “[t]he 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.”
In today’s Chronicle story, the Littlefeather sisters said it was troubling to see her “venerated as a saint.”