Sacheen Littlefeather’s sisters say claiming Native American heritage is a scam
The most surprising moment in Oscars history now has a new twist. That Chronicle of San Francisco released an investigative report on Saturday arguing Sacheen Littlefeather, the Native American activist sent by Marlon Brando to turn down his Best Actor Oscar The Godfather, is an “ethnic scam”. According to her sisters, Littlefeather, who died earlier this month shortly after receiving an official pardon from the academy, was not Apache, as she claimed, but half Mexican. They also said she didn’t grow up with an abusive father or in dire poverty. “Of course we had a toilet,” her sister Trudy Orlando said, debunking a longstanding claim.
Littlefeather’s two sisters, Orlandi and Rosalind Cruzturned to a Native American journalist and activist Jacqueline Kielerknown for co-creating the hashtag #NotYourMascot in 2013 (which helped put an end to the former name of the Washington DC soccer team for good) and has for years run a “Pretendians” list exposing people, who make false claims about Native American heritage.
That timeline Article goes into great detail on the family tree of Dingeen Littlefeather. Keeler, who was born Marie Louise Cruz (nicknamed “Deb”), says there’s no evidence she hints at anything other than white heritage on her mother’s side and Mexican on her father’s side. It was the restoration of their father’s name that ultimately inspired the sisters to come forward, they said. Born in Oxnard, California, Orlandi said the man “never drank” and was not mentally ill, belying her sister’s claims.
Littlefeather said her name was given during the Native American occupation of Alcatraz, but Keeler’s investigation shows she was never actually there. (Activist Lanada Warjack, who was on the island for the full 18 months, said she never heard from her until the Oscars.) Additionally, Keeler wrote that Littlefeather’s claim that Dingeen means “little bear” in Navajo was untrue. (“Shush yazh” would be the correct translation.) Also, Keeler said, Navajo people don’t name people after animals.
The sisters recalled that they used to make clothes at a local 4-H club and used materials from the Sacheen Ribbon company and suspect this was the real inspiration for the name.
Marlon Brando hit Littlefeather through Francis Ford Coppola. At that time she was trying to break into Hollywood and already had a shoot for playboy, which would eventually be released after her performance at the Academy Awards. (LaNada Warjack told Keeler that while she found the Oscar action impressive, the photo spread was suspicious: “The last thing we, as local women, wanted anyone to think of was sex objects.”)
At the 1973 ceremony, she wore traditional attire and made a brief statement about Hollywood’s treatment of Native Americans. Rachel Walch and Clinton Eastwood both made derogatory comments afterwards, and Littlefeather later said she was blacklisted by the industry. She also claimed that John Wayne had to be restrained by security guards to prevent him from attacking her on stage, a story film historians have told Farran Smith Take has gone to great lengths to debunk.
The Academy’s apology to Littlefeather read: “[t]The emotional drain you have endured and the cost of your own career in our industry is beyond repair. For too long the courage you have shown has not been recognised. For this we offer both our deepest apologies and our sincere admiration.” On Saturday timeline In the story, the Littlefeather sisters said it was disturbing to see them “revered as saints.”