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Sacheen Littlefeather, Indigenous activist, dies at 75: 'I’m going to the world of my ancestors'

Sacheen Littlefeather famously appeared at the Academy Awards and rejected Marlon Brando's 1973 Oscar on his behalf.

Sacheen Littlefeather, Indigenous activist, dies at 75: 'I’m going to the world of my ancestors'
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - SEPTEMBER 17: Sacheen Littlefeather on stage at AMPAS Presents An Evening with Sacheen Littlefeather at Academy Museum of Motion Pictures on September 17, 2022 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)

Native American rights activist Sacheen Littlefeather passed away of breast cancer on Sunday, reported Guardian. According to a statement from her caregiver, Littlefeather, who was 75, passed away at her home in Novato in Northern California surrounded by her loved ones. In 1973, when Marlon Brando won the Oscar for best actor for his performance in "The Godfather" he chose to abstain from the ceremony to protest Hollywood's mistreatment of Native Americans. Appearing on behalf of Brando, in a brief address, Littlefeather revealed that the actor's refusal to receive the award was partly a result of "the treatment of American Indians today by the film industry... and on television, in movie reruns." Littlefeather, who was 26 at the time, received jeers for speaking truth to power. She later stated that security personnel had to stop actor John Wayne from attacking her backstage. Other people allegedly made inappropriate gestures backstage.

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - SEPTEMBER 17: Sacheen Littlefeather on stage at AMPAS Presents An Evening with Sacheen Littlefeather at Academy Museum of Motion Pictures on September 17, 2022 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - SEPTEMBER 17: Sacheen Littlefeather on stage at AMPAS Presents An Evening with Sacheen Littlefeather at Academy Museum of Motion Pictures on September 17, 2022, in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)

 

After the ceremony, Hollywood put her on a blacklist, she alleged. But, in August this year, The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences officially apologized to Littlefeather for its treatment of her, arranging a seminar with her on Indigenous representation. The statement, that described her appearance as “a powerful statement that continues to remind us of the necessity of respect and the importance of human dignity” read, “The abuse you endured because of this statement was unwarranted and unjustified. The 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.” 



 

 

Littlefeather, then 75, responded by saying, “Regarding the Academy’s apology to me, we Indians are very patient people — it’s only been 50 years! We need to keep our sense of humor about this at all times. It’s our method of survival.” Littlefeather discussed her difficult upbringing in an interview with Guardian. Born to an Apache and Yaqui father and a white mother in 1946, both of whom were unable to raise her, she had it rough. When she was 3 years old, her parents took her away, and she was raised by her maternal grandparents. She recalled attacking her father with a broom when she was young to stop him from hurting her mother. “I think that’s when I really became an activist," she shared. 



 

 

When Littlefeather was 17 years old and her father had passed away, she started traveling to reservations in Arizona, New Mexico and California. “I really had a breakthrough, with other urban Indian people, getting back into our traditions, our heritage. The old people who came from different reservations taught us young people how to be Indian again. It was wonderful.” In her early 20s, Littlefeather was managing a local Indigenous affirmative action committee, working at a San Francisco radio station, and researching representation in sports and the entertainment industry.



 

 

When she spoke with The Guardian, she was much older and was teaching cultural knowledge to younger indigenous people. She had disclosed that she had breast cancer. “I’ve been on chemotherapy for quite some time, and daily antibiotics. As a result, my memory is not as good as it used to be,” she said. “I’m very tired all the time because cancer is a full-time job: the CT scans, MRIs, laboratory blood work, medical visits, chemotherapy, infectious disease control doctors, etc, etc. If you’re lazy, you need not apply for cancer.” Speaking of death, she had said, “I’m going to another place. I’m going to the world of my ancestors. I’m saying goodbye to you … I’ve earned the right to be my true self.”



 

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