Sacheen Littlefeather Biography

Marie Louise Cruz, better known by her stage name Sacheen Cruz Littlefeather, was an American actress, model, and Native American civil rights activist. She was born on November 14, 1946, and passed away on October 2, 2022. Littlefeather’s father was of Apache and Yaqui ancestry, and his mother was of European American descent. He was born in the United States. During the Native American activist community’s occupation of Alcatraz in 1969, she became active in the occupation of Alcatraz.

At the 45th Academy Awards in 1973, Littlefeather was Marlon Brando’s representative. There, she declined the Oscar for Best Actor that he had received for his role in The Godfather on behalf of Brando. Brando had won the prize for his work in The Godfather. Brando, who was widely considered to be the front-runner for the award, decided not to attend the presentation in order to voice his disapproval of the way Native Americans were portrayed in Hollywood films and to bring attention to the conflict at Wounded Knee. The audience’s reaction to her statement regarding Brando’s decision to boycott was mixed, consisting of both boos and clapping at various points.

Following her acceptance speech at the Academy Awards, Littlefeather went on to pursue a career in hospice care. She continued to be an activist for a variety of causes, including those pertaining to Native Americans and health, and she had made documentaries about Native Americans. The declaration of apology that the Academy dispatched to Littlefeather in June 2022 was presented in its entirety during the September 17 event titled An Evening with Sacheen Littlefeather.




Early life and work

Littlefeather was born Marie Louise Cruz on November 14, 1946, in Salinas, California. Her mother, Geroldine Marie Barnitz (1923–2009), was a leather stamper of French, German, and Dutch descent from Santa Barbara. Her father, Manuel Ybarra Cruz (1922–1966), was of White Mountain Apache and Yaqui descent from Oxnard. Manuel learnt to construct saddles as a youngster in San Francisco from Leo Leonard of Leonard Saddle Co. By 1949, they moved to Salinas and started Cruz Saddlery. Her mother ran the business following her father’s death in 1966. .

Littlefeather’s interviews reveal a hard childhood. In a 1974 interview, she said her mother left her father when she was 4 and took her to live with her maternal grandparents.  In 1988, she said her parents lived next door to her maternal grandparents, Marie and Gerold “Barney” Barnitz, while she and her two younger sisters lived with them.  She has characterized this as either being “adopted”  or in foster care .

Littlefeather attended North Salinas High School from 1960 to 1964 and was active in 4-H, winning awards in food preservation and fashion. After high school, she attended Hartnell Junior College and studied elementary education. In 1969, she moved to the San Francisco Bay Area to pursue a modeling career with photos by Kenneth Cook of Cook’s Photography.

She studied dramatics and speech at California State College at Hayward (now California State University, East Bay) and continued to explore her Native American identity. In 1969, she joined the United Bay Indian Council and participated in the Alcatraz occupation in 1970 under the name Sacheen Littlefeather .

Aspiring to be an actress, Littlefeather picked up radio and TV commercial credits and joined the Screen Actors Guild. She later said, “If you have a deaf parent, you naturally have to act out messages to them.” In 1970, as “Sacheen Littlefeather of Alcatraz,” she was named Miss Vogue.

While living in the San Francisco Bay area in the early 1970s, Littlefeather participated in the 1971 American Indian Festival at Foothill College, judged a local 1972 beauty pageant as “Princess Littlefeather,” and organized a 1972 American Indian Festival at the Palace of Fine Arts. She also worked at a radio station, KFRC, for about six months and did freelance reporting for KQED.

Playboy magazine planned a spread called “10 Little Indians” in 1972, but it was cancelled. A year later, in October 1973, they ran the photographs of Littlefeather as a stand-alone feature. Littlefeather was personally criticized for what was seen as exploitation of her fame, but she explained it was “strictly a business agreement” to earn the money needed to attend college.

In January 1973, she appeared in “Make-up for Minority Women” as a professional model. As a spokesperson for the National American Indian Council, she protested President Nixon’s budget cuts



Personal life 


Littlefeather studied acting, yoga, fencing, Shakespeare, and dancing at the American Conservatory Theater in 1974. She played Paleflower in Montana’s Winterhawk. In 1975, Littlefeather claimed working on an Edward S. Curtis movie scenario with Cap Weinberger, Jr. She emceed a 1976 United National Indian Tribal Youth conference in Oklahoma City. She kept playing, touring with “Red Earth Theater Company.”

Littlefeather studied orthomolecular nutrition and says she “wanted to see where ‘white’ food originated from” She wanted to travel to Europe to “see where the white people came from,” much as people visit reservations to “see where the Indians originated from.” She saw parallels between Spanish buuelos, American Indian fried bread, Russian pirozhkis, and Kiowa meat pies while touring.



Health problems and death 

Littlefeather has had internal bleeding, collapsed lungs, and cancer. She had tuberculosis aged 4 and was hospitalized in an oxygen tent. She was suicidal and hospitalized for a year. In 1974, she said Marlon Brando helped her recover by sending her to a doctor, so she made the Oscar speech to compensate him.

She collapsed at 29. After healing, she earned a degree in holistic health and nutrition with a focus in Native American medicine. Littlefeather underwent cancer surgery in 1991. She suffered colon cancer in the 1990s, according to a 1999 report.

Littlefeather developed stage 4 breast cancer in 2018, a recurrence from 2012. Littlefeather revealed in a 2021 interview that her lung cancer had spread and she was dying. She died in Novato, California, in 2022 at age 75.

in February 1973. She attended an FCC-minority group discussion on TV representation on March 6, 1973.