Sacheen Littlefeather Dead at 75: Activist Famously Turned Down Oscar on Behalf of Marlon Brando

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences issued a formal apology earlier this year for Littlefeather's mistreatment at the 1973 Oscars.
Sacheen Littlefeather at the 1973 Oscars
Sacheen Littlefeather at the 1973 Oscars

Indigenous activist Sacheen Littlefeather died October 2 at age 75 from metastasized breast cancer.

Littlefeather famously made history in 1973 when she turned down the Academy Award for Best Actor on behalf of “The Godfather” winner Marlon Brando. Almost 50 years later, Littlefeather received a formal apology from the Academy for her mistreatment at the awards ceremony.

“As you stood on the Oscars stage in 1973 to not accept the Oscar on behalf of Marlon Brando, in recognition of the misrepresentation and mistreatment of Native American people by the film industry, you made a powerful statement that continues to remind us of the necessity of respect and the importance of human dignity,” a letter signed by former Academy President David Rubin stated, as addressed June 18.

The letter continued, “The abuse you endured because of this statement was unwarranted and unjustified. 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 also opened up about her recollections of John Wayne’s response to her presence at the ceremony.

Littlefeather was honored as the guest of honor at “an evening of healing and Indigenous celebration” hosted by the Academy Museum in Los Angeles on September 17.

Two weeks later, Littlefeather died October 2 at her home in Marin County, California, surrounded by her family and loved ones.

“Littlefeather dedicated her life to the health and wellness of Native people everywhere,” a statement to media said. “She was known for her sense of humor, quick wit, and fierce advocacy for Native American and Indigenous communities.”

Salinas, California-born Littlefeather worked as a holistic health nutritionist for the Kiowa tribe and as public service director at KFRC Radio in San Francisco. She also modeled and acted prior to her appearance at the 45th Academy Awards in 1973 where she called out the film industry’s representation of Native Americans.

“She did so unselfishly, in efforts to end the stereotyping of Native people in the film, television, and sports industries,” Littlefeather’s obituary read. “As a result, Sacheen was professionally boycotted, personally harassed and attacked, and discriminated against for nearly 50 years.”

The obituary added, “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.”

Littlefeather’s husband Charles Koshiway died in November 2021. In her honor, Littlefeather asked for supporters to make donations to the American Indian Child Resource Center in Oakland, California.

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