In 1973, Marlon Brando was nominated for his role as Vito Corleone in The Godfather and he knew that it was very likely that the Hollywood Academy would decide to give him the Oscar. However, the actor chose not to attend the ceremony and made a decision that caused great surprise and confusion: he sent instead Sacheen Littlefeatheran indigenous activist.
As he had foreseen, Brando was the winner and that woman was in charge of going up on stage to reject the award and give a political speech that caused a great stir. Dressed in typical Apache attire, Littlefeather, then 26, read a message written by the actor on stage: “Unfortunately, I cannot accept this very generous award. And the reasons behind this is the treatment that the film industry and television give today to Native Americans in movies. Also, recent events at Wounded Knee”, he said, referring to a violent confrontation between federal agents and indigenous people in a place of great importance to the Sioux people.
The hit was more than successful: that brief appearance on the televisions of millions of homes and his surprising speech made Littlefeather became the popular imagination in the visible face of the struggle of the American native peoples. However, this Saturday, just two weeks after his deaththe woman’s sisters revealed what their true roots were.
In an interview published by the San Francisco Chronicle, that in a matter of minutes had a big bounce in the main American media, the women assured that their sister lied about her indigenous ancestry. “It’s a lie,” Trudy Orlandi said of her. “My father was who he was. His family came from Mexico. And my father was born in Oxnard.”he added, referring to the city in Ventura County in the US state of California.
Littlefeather’s other sister, Rosalind Cruz, said: “It is a fraud. It is repugnant to the heritage of tribal people. And it’s just insulting to my parents”. In this way, they threw overboard the version of Littlefeather, who claimed to belong to the White Mountain Apache and Yaqui tribes on his father’s side.
In August of this year, Littlefeather had received a belated letter of apology from Academy President David Rubin, both for the reaction of some of those present at the ceremony – she denounced that John Wayne wanted to physically attack her and had to be restrained by guards of security – as for having been canceled by the industry at that very moment. A month later, the Academy Film Museum held a ceremony in her honor. “I was representing all indigenous voices, all indigenous peoples, because we had never been heard in that way”he said, about what happened in 1973.
Littlefeather died of metastatic breast cancer on October 2 at her home in Marin County, California. “Littlefeather dedicated his life to the health and well-being of natives everywhere,” the statement announcing his death read. Nevertheless, her sisters said they were shocked and outraged to see how “she is revered as a saint” after lying about her origins and claiming that her father was an alcoholic and had abused all the women in the family, including her white mother.
Orlandi said he was furious that his sister lied about having a violent and impoverished upbringing, saying he actually owned his father’s childhood experiences. “My father was deaf and he had lost his hearing at the age of nine due to meningitis,” added Cruz. “He was born into poverty. His father, George Cruz, was an alcoholic who was violent and used to beat him. And they passed him on to foster homes and relatives. But my sister Sacheen took that story and made it her own.”.
“My father’s father, George, was the alcoholic. My dad never drank. My dad never smoked. And you know, she also criticized him and said that my father had a mental illness. My father was not mentally ill, ”said the woman.
In different interviews, Littlefeather referred to a childhood mired in poverty. “I never saw a reservation until I was 17 years old,” Littlefeather said in an interview published in 1974, adding, “I lived in a shack in Salinas, California. I remember the day we got a bathroom, I took the neighborhood kids and gave them the tour.” “That infuriates me,” Orlandi exclaimed when told of the appointment. “Our house had a bathroom… And it’s not a shack, okay, I have pictures of that. Of course we had a bath”.
None of the sisters know where the name “Littlefeather” comes from. Orlandi scoffed at her sister’s claims that she was named after her father when she danced in front of him, holding a single feather aloft. “That she danced in front of my father and always had a feather in her hair, on her head? And that’s when my father called her ‘Little Feather’ That’s another fantasy, ”she assured.
“Sacheen didn’t like herself. She didn’t like being Mexican. So, it was better for her to play someone else. I mean, she was not going to be a Mexican-American princess, “Orlandi pointed out about the fraud concocted by her sister. “You are going to be a Native American princess. She was more prestigious to be Native American than Latina in her mind,” she noted.
San Francisco Chronicle found records of Cruz’s family in Mexico dating back to 1850, all identified as white or Mexican since 1880 upon entering the United States. Additionally, the White Mountain Apache Tribe had no enrollment records for Sacheen Littlefeather or any family members, living or dead. Orlandi added: “My sister created a fantasy, lived in a fantasy and died in a fantasy”.
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The sisters of Sacheen Littlefeather, the indigenous activist who rejected the Oscar for Marlon Brando, assure that the woman lied about her origin: “It was a fraud”