A healer and activist, Sacheen Littlefeather was far more than her infamous Oscar moment


Sacheen Littlefeather devoted her life to advocating for the rights and well being of Indigenous folks.

Her function as an activist began properly earlier than her notorious Academy Awards second when, in 1973, she declined an Oscar on behalf of Marlon Brando and used her 60-second speech to name out the mistreatment of Indigenous folks.

And although she was shunned in Hollywood after that second, she informed Unreserved host Rosanna Deerchild in a September interview that she was “pushed in” — not out — towards extra significant work.

“I see issues as if I climbed the Grand Canyon in Arizona, and I am trying down now to the place I have been in life,” Littlefeather stated on the time.

“That has taught me fairly a bit, trying from this viewpoint and realizing what all has occurred all through the years and cultivating, all through the experiences of my life, a really constructive perspective towards every part.”

Littlefeather died Sunday, aged 75, resulting from breast most cancers at her residence in Marin County, Calif. 

“Littlefeather devoted her life to the well being and wellness of Native folks in all places,” the activist’s household stated in a press release. “She was identified for her humorousness, fast wit, and fierce advocacy for Native American and Indigenous communities.”

In August, the Academy of Movement Image Arts and Sciences apologized for the way Littlefeather’s speech on the Oscars was acquired; her performing profession got here to an abrupt finish, she confronted discrimination and was threatened by actor John Wayne. In mid-September, the academy held an occasion co-programmed by Littlefeather in her honour.

Within the years that adopted that speech, Littlefeather raised consciousness of the injustices confronted by Indigenous peoples, whether or not or not it’s how they’re portrayed on display or cared for in sickness.

“I did plenty of work in my neighborhood, in my Native American Indian neighborhood, and had since I used to be on Alcatraz Island manner again when, at first of the ’70s,” she stated.

“[These are] issues that individuals normally do not find out about.”

Advocate for Indigenous rights

In late 1969, dozens of Indigenous activists, led by Richard Oakes, had occupied Alcatraz Island. The occupation was additionally organized by the American Indian Motion. After the federal jail on the island was closed in 1963, Indigenous folks needed the land returned to them, with plans of making a cultural centre and faculty there.

Littlefeather was a scholar, supported by grants and scholarships, on the time and could not dedicate herself absolutely to the trigger, she recalled.

“I solely received to go on Alcatraz as a weekend warrior, so to talk,” Littlefeather stated within the September interview.

Littlefeather, in an undated photograph from 2022, stands in entrance of a poster depicting her on the Oscars night time that ended her profession as an actor and mannequin however propelled her additional down a highway as an activist and healer. (Submitted by Sacheen Littlefeather)

These weekends on the island, nevertheless, have been affirming. Littlefeather hadn’t grown up in her Indigenous neighborhood and did not know a lot concerning the tradition. On Alcatraz, she related together with her Indigenous heritage.

“I used to be an city Indian, raised as a white particular person. And, in fact, I, like different city Indians, have been discriminated in opposition to,” she stated.

“We received to attach with our personal Indianness there on the island, Indians of all tribes.”

Littlefeather noticed the occupation of Alcatraz as a sort of crucible for the Indigenous activism that will observe.

“It is not being on the island, I do not consider, that was the vital factor. For me, it is ‘What did you try this sparked your creativity from the island going ahead?'” she stated.

I knew that should you communicate the reality, the reality will final past the time of eternity.– Sacheen Littlefeather

Littlefeather, together with Jasper Redrobe, is credited as a artistic guide on Track for Useless Warriors — a ballet by the San Francisco Ballet Firm that gained an Emmy Award for its PBS tv manufacturing. 

“Joanne Woodward, who’s the spouse of Paul Newman who I went to see the ballet with … her remark was, ‘This isn’t a ballet, that is actual life,'” Littlefeather recalled.

“It was the story of the Indian one that got here on relocation to the city Indian space, and it was patterned after the lifetime of Richard Oakes, who had since died for the trigger,” she stated.

Littlefeather additionally supported the occupation at Wounded Knee in 1973, whereas working as a public service director for a neighborhood radio station in San Francisco. It was at the moment she related with Marlon Brando and ultimately spoke on the Academy Awards.

WATCH | Sacheen Littlefeather declines Marlon Brando’s Oscar:

Deal with drugs, pure remedies

On the age of 29, Littlefeather’s lungs collapsed “like two flat tires on the freeway,” she stated. A case of tuberculosis throughout her childhood was responsible.

After having what she described as an out-of-body expertise throughout her hospital keep, Littlefeather determined to forego extra therapy — continued hospital stays, surgical procedure and drugs — in quest of a holistic path ahead.

“I grew to become a vegetarian for 5 years and completely cleansed my entire system out … with acupuncture, with herbs, with pure meals as drugs,” she stated.

Littlefeather started sharing what she discovered with others, providing workshops to communities round the US, and ultimately graduated school with a level in holistic diet, minoring in Indigenous drugs. 

Working with a hospital in Tucson, Ariz., she helped create a pure drugs program to serve the power’s Indigenous sufferers.

“Medication folks have been coming there to assist to heal these sufferers who have been hospitalized, and the docs, the nurses, and many others., didn’t perceive why they have been there,” Littlefeather informed Unreserved. 

“So we helped to coach all the employees … about what conventional Indian drugs is all about.”

Requested whether or not she was nonetheless working as a healer, Littlefeather stated: “Oh, completely. It is a best-kept secret.” 

Caregiver for folks residing with AIDS

Within the Nineteen Eighties, as the consequences of the HIV/AIDS epidemic grew to become clearer, Littlefeather turned her consideration to how the illness was affecting Indigenous communities in the US.

She helped discovered the American Indian AIDS Institute in San Francisco.

“We knew that our folks have been dying from AIDS and that we have been the one ones to take cost and to assist our personal folks via the method of AIDS, and to assist them to undergo the method of dying, to the opposite facet,” she stated.

On this March 27, 1973, photograph, Littlefeather may be seen telling the viewers on the Academy Awards ceremony that Marlon Brando was declining to just accept his Oscar as finest actor for his function in The Godfather. The transfer was meant to protest Hollywood’s therapy of American Indians. (The Related Press)

Later within the Nineteen Eighties, Littlefeather started working with Mom Teresa in a San Francisco hospice run by the nun. She would ultimately ask the lady she known as “Mom” for coaching. 

“I volunteered and that is after I requested her. And he or she stated sure, she wouldn’t flip down a serving to hand,” stated Littlefeather. “So I grew to become a scholar of hers, if you’ll.”

Littlefeather spent a lot of the rest of her life working in hospice.

‘Braveness you confirmed went unacknowledged’

In its apology, the academy acknowledged the “abuse” Littlefeather endured following her speech was “unwarranted and unjustified.”

“The emotional burden you could have lived via and the associated fee to your individual profession in our business are irreparable. For too lengthy the braveness you confirmed has been unacknowledged,” learn the letter of apology addressed to Littlefeather.

Undoubtedly, Littlefeather’s braveness remained for many years, buoyed by an unwavering perception that she was by no means alone. 

“I knew that should you communicate the reality, the reality will final past the time of eternity,” she stated. “I used to be prepared to do that as a result of I knew that my ancestors could be behind me and earlier than me and surrounding me.”


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