Oscar Scandals: Writer Accuses Sacheen Littlefeather (Who Accepted Brando’s Oscar in 1973) of Falsifying Native Identity

An Indigenous writer has published an opinion piece that includes interviews with the estranged sisters of the late activist.

 

Three weeks after Littlefeather passing, a writer has come forward with claims that the celebrated activist and former actress spent her life fraudulently posing as a Native American. Littlefeather died on Oct. 2 of metastasized breast cancer at age 75.

In article published in the San Francisco Chronicle’s Open Forum opinion section on Saturday, Jacqueline Keeler (Diné/Dakota) alleges that Littlefeather, who cemented her pop culture legacy when she took the stage at the 1973 Oscars to decline the best actor Oscar on Brando’s behalf, 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.

That her mother was white has not been disputed.

On Friday, they appeared at the funeral, where Cruz took to the pulpit and told the assembled mourners that their sister had lived with a lifelong mental illness and maligned her parents with her accounts of a difficult, abusive childhood.

In her column, Keeler writes that she began investigating Littlefeather’s history as part of her ongoing research into “Pretendians,” a list she began compiling in January 2021 of individuals who falsely claim Native identity.

Keeler and her list are considered controversial within the Indigenous community, with some arguing that her research methods are unclear and that she has doxxed individuals without strong evidence. “I don’t want to give Keeler’s shtick oxygen,” 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 mistreatment and industry blacklisting she experienced after the 1973 Oscars. (She was first accused of being a performer for hire posing as a Native American back then.) Littlefeather was feted at the Academy Museum during an evening of reflection and celebration of Native American culture in September, two weeks before her death.

The Academy declined to comment on the latest accusations.