Sacheen Littlefeather, Native American Actress and Activist, Dead at 75

October 03, 2022

By: Mariah Fritz

Photo: Michael Ochs Archvies/Getty Images)

Native American actress and activist Sacheen Littlefeather, who made history when she declined the Oscar for Best Actor on behalf of Marlon Brando, has died at the age of 75.

On Monday, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced her death in a Twitter post. They shared an image of Littlefeather, with the caption of the post reading: “Sacheen Littlefeather, Native American civil rights activist who famously declined Marlon Brando’s 1973 Best Actor Academy Award, dies at 75.” According to CNN, there isn’t certainty on what caused the actress’ death, however, Littlefeather disclosed on Facebook in January that she had metastasized breast cancer.

Littlefeather made Oscars history when she went to the 1973 Oscars in place of “The Godfather” star Marlon Brando, who protested against the awards show for the portrayal of Native Americans in film and the industry in general. He was also boycotting because of federal law enforcement’s inhumane response to the occupation of the South Dakota town of Wounded Knee by members of the American Indian Movement. 

During Littlefeather’s speech, she was met with simultaneous boos and applause. She was known for her roles in “Winterhawk,” “Shoot the Sun Down” and “The Trial of Billy Jack,” but the audience response to her speech later caused her to be blacklisted from the film industry. After almost 50 years, Littlefeather received an apology from the Academy “for the mistreatment she experienced during her speech and in the years that followed”, according to CNN. 

Former Academy President David Rubin stated in the letter to Littlefeather that the abuse she endured was “unwarranted and unjustified.” Rubin continues and adds: “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 stated that the apology was a “dream come true,” and said: “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.”

The actress and activist was a keynote speaker last month at an Academy event held at its film museum in Los Angeles that featured many other Indigenous performers