Only a few weeks later the death of Sacheen Little Feather – the actress and activist who turned down Marlon Brando’s Oscar in 1973 for The Godfather in her name and was blacklisted in Hollywood – her biological sisters revealed she had fabricated her Native American ancestry.
Littlefeather’s two sisters (born Marie Louise Cruz) say it San Francisco Chronicle that, despite Littlefeather’s claims to be White Mountain Apache, their father was actually Mexican with no tribal identity; genealogical records have also traced the history of the Cruz family to Mexico City with no known connection to the tribal nations there.
“It’s a lie,” Littlefeather’s sister Trudy Orlandi told author Jacqueline Keeler. “My dad was what he was. His family came from Mexico. And my dad was born in Oxnard.
Sister Rosalind Cruz added: “It is a fraud. It’s disgusting to the heritage of tribal peoples. And that’s just… insulting to my parents.
Part of the sisters’ decision to speak out against Littlefeather’s fraud was to rightfully honor their father, whom Littlefeather portrayed as a violent drunkard in interviews, as well as to embellish the family’s poverty growing up; the sisters said it was actually their father’s father who was drunk and abusive, and Littlefeather took their father’s harsh childhood and applied it to his own origin story.
“My father never drank. My father never smoked. And you know, she also castigated him and said that my father was mentally ill. My father was not mentally ill,” Orlandi said.
Additionally, the sisters speculate that their sister’s adopted name, Sacheen, is likely a reference to the Sasheen ribbons they played with as children; it is also unlikely that “Littlefeather” was ever officially awarded to her by the Navajos as she claimed.
(Cruz and Orlandi also clarified their sister’s fabricated backstory this week during Littlefeather’s funeral servicewhere they also defended their father’s legacy.)
In Littlefeather’s obituaries that followed his death on October 2, many noted his participation in the Native occupation to try to reclaim Alcatraz Island in 1969. However, LaNada Warjack, one of the student leaders during the duration of the occupation of 18 months, declared the San Francisco Chronicle that Littlefeather was never part of the protest. “We never really got to know her until Oscar night,” Warjack said.
After nearly half a century of Littlefeather being “blacklisted” by Hollywood due to her 1973 Oscar speech, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences formally apologized to her in June 2022 and organized an event in his honor in September a few days before his death.
“Be proud that we are survivors – all of us,” Littlefeather said at the Academy event. “Please, when I’m gone, always remember that every time you stand up for your truth, you will keep your voice and the voices of our nations and our people alive.”