The legacy of Sacheen Littlefeather is contested in a new column

Three weeks after the death of Sacheen Littlefeather, the activist who accepted Marlon Brando’s famous Oscar for The Godfather at the 1973 Academy Awards, a new column claims Littlefeather has spent her life posing as a Native American.

The article, published in the San Francisco Chronicle on Saturday, includes quotes from Littlefeather’s sisters, Rosalind Cruz and Trudy Orlandi, who called the activist’s Native American identity a “lie.”

Littlefeather, who died of breast cancer on October 2 at the age of 75, first publicly claimed inheritance from the White Mountain Apache, a tribe in Arizona, in the 1970s. According to the column, no tribal official could provide any record of registering Littlefeather or her family members. Littlefeather also declared himself of Yaqui descent in later years. The Yaqui hail from both Arizona and the Mexican state of Sonora.

Littlefeather was born Maria Louise Cruz in Salinas, Arizona to parents Manuel Ybarra Cruz and Gertrude Barnitz. The columnist’s account of her father’s ancestry, in which Littlefeather claimed Native American heritage, found no ties to Native American nations in the United States. Littlefeather’s legacy was said to have been traced to lands that are now part of Mexico.

“That’s a lie,” Orlandi told the Chronicle. “My father was who he was. His family came from Mexico. And my father was born in Oxnard.”

“It’s a scam,” Cruz said. “It’s disgusting to the heritage of tribal peoples. And it’s just… an insult to my parents.”

Littlefeather’s sisters also denied the activist’s claims of an impoverished background and “mentally ill” parents. Both sisters first learned of Littlefeather’s death over the internet; none were invited to the funeral.

Notably, several Native American writers and activists have denounced the Chronicle column on social media, saying that its author, Jacqueline Keeler, has long had a vendetta against Littlefeather, among other characters she calls “Pretendians.” They also say that Littlefeather’s sisters thought they were of Native American descent until Wheeler informed them they weren’t. “Their desire to weed out the pretenders has led to a violent vendetta against the real reunion of natives who don’t conform to colonial standards.” wrote CarlyMButton on twitter.

Keeler and representatives from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences could not immediately be reached for comment. The legacy of Sacheen Littlefeather is contested in a new column

Charles Jones

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