Family Of Sacheen Littlefeather, Who Rejected Marlon Brando’s Oscar, Says Her Native American Heritage ‘Is A Lie’

Family Of Sacheen Littlefeather, Who Rejected Marlon Brando’s Oscar, Says Her Native American Heritage ‘Is A Lie’

Sacheen Littlefeather, the activist actress who rejected Marlon Brando’s ‘Godfather’ Oscar in 1973, allegedly lied about her Native American heritage – according to her two biological sisters.

Littlefeather, who died earlier this month, made headlines in August after the Academy of Arts and Sciences apologized to her for the treatment she received during the 1973 Oscars. Back then, she appeared on stage in traditional Native dress and lamented the mistreatment of Native Americans by Hollywood and other industries. As she spoke, the audience booed, and presenters went on to mock her.

But while she may have experienced adversity almost fifty years ago, Littlefeather became an activist icon with massive public support in the decades that followed, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

Now, however, her relatives are calling out what they claim is a “fraud” – her story of being raised by a violent father of White Mountain Apache and Yaqui Indian descent. Her biological sisters, Rosalind Cruz and Trudy Orlandi, reached out to the Chronicle to say Littlefeather wasn’t Native American at all.

“It’s a lie,” Orlandi told the outlet. “My father was who he was. His family came from Mexico. And my dad was born in Oxnard [California].”

“It is a fraud,” Cruz said. “It’s disgusting to the heritage of the tribal people. And it’s just … insulting to my parents.”

The sisters told the outlet in separate interviews that they knew of no Native American ancestry and that they identified as Spanish on their father’s side.

“I mean, you’re not gonna be a Mexican American princess,” Orlandi said of her sister’s adoption of an alleged fraudulent identity. “You’re gonna be an American Indian princess. It was more prestigious to be an American Indian than it was to be Hispanic in her mind.”

The Chronicle noted that Littlefeather’s claim to be of White Mountain Apache heritage was always odd, given the fact that she was born in Salinas, California – the same place where author John Steinbeck was born – with the name Marie Louise Cruz to parents Manuel Ybarra Cruz and Gertrude Barnitz. The Chronicle looked through her father’s ancestry and found no Native heritage but did find records in Mexico, with no relatives listing their race as Native American or American Indian on any official forms.

The Chronicle noted that just about every detail from her claims to have grown up in a poor Native American family was false. She apparently began using the identity in the 1960s as a student at San Jose State University when she was trying to become a model. Later, in 1974, she told the Berkeley Gazette that she was “an urban Indian.”

“Never saw a reservation till I was 17,” she told the outlet, according to the Chronicle. “I lived in a shack in Salinas, Cal. I remember the day we got a toilet, and I brought the neighborhood kids in and gave them the tour.”

Her sister Trudy, however, said they had a toilet growing up and never lived in a shack, saying the description “infuriates” her.

Both sisters insisted Littlefeather stole their father’s life story when making up her identity.

“My father was deaf and he had lost his hearing at 9 years old through meningitis,” Cruz told the Chronicle. “He was born into poverty. His father, George Cruz, was an alcoholic who was violent and used to beat him. And he was passed to foster homes and family. But my sister Sacheen took what happened to him.”

Another supposed lie from Littlefeather, whose ancestry wasn’t questioned in her recent obituaries, was the claim that she participated in the Native American occupation protest to reclaim Alcatraz Island in 1969. LaNada Warjack, a student leader of the 18-month protest, told the Chronicle that Littlefeather was never at Alcatraz.

“We never really knew her until the Oscar night,” Warjack told the outlet. “We thought that was really cool. That same year she did a spread in Playboy magazine. We knew no Native would do that. Especially during the 70s …The last thing we as Native women wanted anyone to think of us was as sex objects.”

In August, another of Littlefeather’s claims came under scrutiny – one she had told many times over the decades. She insisted that famed actor John Wayne was “in the wings” at the 1973 Oscars and had to be held back by six security men to prevent him from attacking her. Film writer and historian Farran Smith Nehme looked into the claim extensively and discovered it absolutely could not have happened.