Who is Sacheen Littlefeather?
Sacheen Littlefeather is an American actress and activist for Native American rights. She is best known for representing Oscar-nominated actor Marlon Brando at the 45th Academy Awards in 1973 while protesting against the stereotypical portrayal of Native Americans in the entertainment industry. After the Academy Awards speech, she continued her activism, actively working to solve a number of Native American issues. Born Marie Louise Cruz in Salinas, California, to a leather stamper mother, Littlefeather has a difficult childhood. Her father, who was a child of an alcoholic father himself, often abused alcohol and beat up the children. He died of terminal cancer at the age of 44. Following her graduation from California State College at Hayward, Littlefeather joined Indians of All Tribes and later participated in the 1969 occupation of Alcatraz. After changing her first name to Sacheen, she picked up radio and television commercials before eventually landing roles in films. Currently, the actress resides in Northern California. In 2018, she was found to have developed stage 4 breast cancer.
Sacheen Littlefeather started her acting career with radio and television commercials. In 1973, she made a cameo appearance as Maggie in the Italian-Spanish crime film ‘Counselor at Crime’. This was followed by her uncredited roles in ‘The Laughing Policeman’ and ‘Freebie and the Bean,’ which were released in 1973 and 1974, respectively. Also, in 1974, the actress played Patsy Littlejohn in ‘The Trial of Billy Jack’, the action sequel of the 1971 movie ‘Billy Jack’ starring Delores Taylor and Tom Laughlin. In the ensuing years, she did the films ‘Winterhawk’ and ‘Shoot the Sun Down’.
In the 1990s, Littlefeather contributed to a few PBS shows, including ‘The Americas Before Columbus’ and ‘Remember Me Forever’. In 2009, she featured as herself in the documentary ‘Reel Injun’. In 2018, her self-titled documentary 'Sacheen' was released.
You May Like
Continue Reading Below
In 1969, Sacheen Littlefeather joined the occupation of Alcatraz, a 19-month long protest led by LaNada Means and Richard Oakes against the American government's resistance to native land claims. After working at St. Mary's Hospital and the Institute of American Indian Arts, she co-founded the National American Indian Performing Arts Registry in 1979.
Littlefeather continued doing activism and went on to become a respected member of California's Native American community. In 1988, she worked with Mother Teresa and helped AIDS patients in hospice care. She later founded the American Indian AIDS Institute of San Francisco. In 2010, she became the executive director of San Francisco’s Kateri Tekakwitha prayer circles.
The 45th Academy Awards Speech
On March 27, 1973, Sacheen Littlefeather represented actor Marlon Brando at the 45th Academy Awards at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, Los Angeles, California. Brando, who was nominated for the Best Actor for his role of Vito Corleone in 1972 film ‘The Godfather,’ boycotted the ceremony as a protest led by AIM against the portrayal of Native Americans by the American film industry. Littlefeather, who appeared as Brando’s spokesperson, walked on the stage and declined the Academy Award trophy Roger Moore and Liv Ullmann offered her.
Her speech impelled the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to eliminate future proxy acceptance of the Oscars. Littlefeather was blacklisted by the Hollywood community.
Family & Personal Life
Sacheen Littlefeather was born as Marie Louise Cruz on November 14, 1946, in Salinas, California, USA, to a mother of French, German, and Dutch descent and a Native American father. She has two sisters. Her early life was very tough as she had to endure abuse at the hands of her father.
She attended California State College (present day - California State University). She later studied acting at the American Conservatory Theater.
In March 2018, it was reported that Littlefeather had developed breast cancer. She currently resides in Northern California.