Sacheen Littlefeather, who declined Brando’s Oscar, dies at 75
On Sept. 17, Sacheen Littlefeather accepted an apology from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for the hostile reception she received at the 45th Oscars in 1973
By Tommy McArdle
PHOTO: FRAZER HARRISON/GETTY
Sacheen Littlefeather has died from metastasized breast cancer. She was 75.
The Native American activist died at 12 p.m. Sunday at her home in Marin County, California, surrounded by her family and loved ones, according to a press release. Littlefeather’s death comes just two weeks after she publicly accepted the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ apology for the hostile reception she received during the 45th Oscars in 1973 when she appeared on behalf of winner Marlon Brando.
“Littlefeather dedicated her life to the health and wellness of Native people everywhere,” reads a press release. “She was known for her sense of humor, quick wit, and fierce advocacy for Native American and Indigenous communities.”
Born on Nov. 14, 1946, in Salinas, California, Littlefeather graduated as valedictorian from Antioch University after studying wholistic health and nutrition with a minor in traditional Indian medicine (herbology), according to her obituary. As early as her college days, Littlefeather actively participated in Indigenous spaces and took part in the 1969 occupation of Alcatraz Island in San Francisco, according to history.com and her obituary.
Littlefeather worked with the Indian Health Service in conducting workshops on wholistic health throughout the country for indigenous tribes and as a wholistic health nutritionist for the Kiowa tribe, where she also wrote a “Food as Medicine” column for the Kiowa Indian Newspaper, her obituary states. In addition, she worked for two years as a public service director at KFRC Radio in San Francisco and was a model and actress.
Littlefeather is best known for appearing on behalf of actor Marlon Brando at the 45th Academy Awards in 1973, during which she refused to accept his Best Actor award for The Godfather and called out the film industry’s treatment of Native Americans. The protest famously received mixed reactions from the star-studded audience.
“She did so unselfishly, in efforts to end the stereotyping of Native people in the film, television, and sports industries,” Littlefeather’s obituary reads. “As a result, Sacheen was professionally boycotted, personally harassed and attacked, and discriminated against for nearly 50 years.”
Close to half a century later, the Academy offered Littlefeather a public apology and honored her at an event called “An Evening with Sacheen Littlefeather” held at the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures in Los Angeles on Sept. 17.
In response to the apology letter issued by then-Academy president David Rubin in June, Littlefeather said, “I am here accepting this apology. Not only for me alone, but as acknowledgment, knowing that it was not only for me but for all of our nations that also need to hear and deserve this apology tonight.”
“Even though many people were judgmental of Sacheen and treated her in a negative way, she forgave them all, did not hold grudges, and moved on with her life in a positive way, showing everyone love and forgiveness,” her obituary adds.
A press release states that Littlefeather “was known for her sense of humor, quick wit, and fierce advocacy for Native American and Indigenous communities.” Her husband, Charles Koshiway, died of blood cancer in November 2021.
A Catholic Requiem Mass will be held at St. Rita Church in Fairfax, California, later this month, according to the press release.
Prior to Littlefeather’s death, she asked that mourners make donations to the American Indian Child Resource Center in Oakland, California, rather than send flowers.