Just weeks after the death of Sacheen Littlefeather — the actress and activist who declined Marlon Brando’s 1973 Oscar win for The Godfather on his behalf and was blacklisted in Hollywood — her biological sisters have revealed that she fabricated her Native American ancestry.
The two sisters of Littlefeather (born Marie Louise Cruz) told the San Francisco Chronicle that, despite Littlefeather’s claims of being White Mountain Apache, their father was actually Mexican with no tribal identity; genealogical records also traced the Cruz family history to Mexico City with no known ties to the tribal nations there.
“It’s a lie,” Littlefeather’s sister Trudy Orlandi told author Jacqueline Keeler. “My father was who he was. His family came from Mexico. And my dad was born in Oxnard.”
Sister Rosalind Cruz added, “It is a fraud. It’s disgusting to the heritage of the tribal people. And it’s just … insulting to my parents.”
Part of the sisters’ decision to come forward with Littlefeather’s fraudulence was to rightfully honor their father, who Littlefeather painted as an abusive drunk in interviews, as well as embellished the family’s poverty growing up; the sisters said it was in fact their father’s father who was drunk and abusive, and Littlefeather took their father’s harsh childhood and applied it to her own origin story.
“My dad never drank. My dad never smoked. And you know, she also blasted him and said my father was mentally ill. My father was not mentally ill,” Orlandi said.
Additionally, the sisters speculate that their sister’s adopted name of Sacheen is likely a reference to the Sasheen ribbons they played with as children; it’s also unlikely “Littlefeather” was ever officially bestowed on her by the Navajo as she claimed.
(Cruz and Orlandi also cleared the air about their sister’s fabricated backstory this week during Littlefeather’s funeral service, where they also defended their father’s legacy.)
In obituaries for Littlefeather that followed her Oct. 2 death, many noted her participation in the Native occupation to attempt to reclaim Alcatraz Island in 1969. However, LaNada Warjack, one of the student leaders for the duration of the 18-month occupation, told the San Francisco Chronicle that Littlefeather was never part of the protest. “We never really knew her until the Oscar night,” Warjack said.
After nearly a half-century of Littlefeather being “blacklisted” from Hollywood due to her Oscar speech in 1973, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences formally apologized to her in June 2022 and held an event in her honor in Sept. just days before her death.
“Be proud that we stand as survivors — all of us,” Littlefeather said during the Academy event. “Please, when I am gone, always be reminded that whenever you stand for your truth, you will be keeping your voice, and the voices of our Nations and our people alive.”