three weeks later Death of Sacheen Littlefeather, a writer claimed that the famous activist and former actress spent her life posing as a Native American. Littlefeather died on October 2 from metastasized breast cancer at the age of 75.
In a piece published in the Chronicle of San Francisco’In the opinion section of the Open Forum on Saturday, Jacqueline Keeler (Diné/Dakota) alleges that Littlefeather, who cemented her pop culture legacy when she took the stage at the 1973 Oscars win the Oscar for best actor Marlon Brando, was of Mexican and white descent. During her lifetime, Littlefeather, whose birth name was Marie Louise Cruz, identified as Apache and Yaqui on her father’s side. (The fact that his mother was white has not been disputed.)
Keeler writes that according to his research of historical records, Littlefeather’s father’s line goes back to Mexico, not Apache and Yaqui territories in Arizona, and that there is no record of the family members being listed in the tribes based on the land now known as the United States. Additionally, Keeler interviewed Littlefeather’s younger sisters, Rosalind Cruz and Trudy Orlandi, who said Littlefeather lied about their family and made up her Indigenous background in an effort to stand out in the entertainment industry. The sisters told Keeler they had fallen silent, thinking Littlefeather’s fame would fade, but were disturbed to see her “revered as a saint”. They added that they learned of Littlefeather’s death from the news. On Friday they appeared at Littlefeather’s Funeral Masswhere Cruz ascended the pulpit and told the gathered mourners that their sister had lived with a lifelong mental illness and slandered her parents with her tales of a difficult and abusive childhood.
In her column, Keeler writes that she began investigating Littlefeather’s story as part of her ongoing research into “pretenders,” a list she began compiling in January 2021 of individuals who claim mistakenly an indigenous identity. Keeler and his list are considered controversial within the Indigenous community, with some claiming that her research methods are unclear and that she has doxxed individuals without strong evidence. “I don’t want to give oxygen to Keeler’s shtick”, tweeted Rutherford Falls showrunner and co-creator Sierra Ornelas on Saturday after Keeler’s column was published.
This summer, Littlefeather returned to public consciousness when the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences formally apologized to her for the abuse and industry blacklisting she suffered after the 1973 Oscars. (She was first accused of being a performer for hire posing as a Native American at the ‘time.) Littlefeather was celebrated at the Accademia Museum at an evening of reflection and celebration of Native American culture in September, two weeks before his death.
The Academy declined to comment on the latest charges. The Hollywood Reporter contacted Keeler for comment.