Sisters' Claim About Sacheen Littlefeather Raises Eyebrows

They say actress wasn't Native American, but there's big-time pushback
By Evann Gastaldo,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 24, 2022 1:46 AM CDT
Updated Oct 29, 2022 6:00 AM CDT
Sisters' Claim About Sacheen Littlefeather Raises Eyebrows
Activist and actress Sacheen Littlefeather takes part in a panel discussion on the PBS special "Reel Injun" at the PBS Television Critics Association summer press tour in Beverly Hills, Calif., Thursday, Aug. 5, 2010.   (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello, FIle)

An opinion column published Saturday in the San Francisco Chronicle lobs a pretty big accusation against Sacheen Littlefeather, the iconic Native American actress and activist who died earlier this month—but the accusation itself has proved quite controversial. The details:

  • The claim: In the column, author Jacqueline Keeler writes that Littlefeather, who famously took the stage in Marlon Brando's place at the 1973 Oscars and nearly 50 years later finally got an apology from the Academy for how she was treated that night, was not actually Native American. Keeler, who is herself indigenous, has called out others for being what she calls "Pretendians," or "non-Native people who I or other Native American people suspect or proved to have manufactured their Native identities for personal gain."

  • The sisters: Keeler says Littlefeather's sisters reached out to her and said, in separate interviews, their family does not have any known Native American ancestry. Their father's family is from Mexico, they say. They claim their sister was embarrassed of her background: "It was more prestigious to be an American Indian than it was to be Hispanic in her mind," one says. Keeler says her own research supports their claims about Littlefeather, whom she says was born Maria Louise Cruz.
  • The pushback: As Variety reports, some Native American writers and activists are pushing back against Keeler's column, claiming Keeler has a history of taking controversial actions when it comes to her desire to "out" those she believes are falsely claiming Native American ancestry.
  • A rebuttal: Also in Variety, indigenous columnist Laura Clark argues that the entire issue illustrates "the complexities of identity and who gets to call themselves Native."
  • Twitter takes: Many incensed takes can be found on Twitter. A sampling: "Watching people argue that Sacheen Littlefeather wasn’t Indigenous because her family was Mexican when not to (sic) long ago people were arguing Frida Khalo was Indigenous because her family was Mexican… No grasp, like at all," writes #DearNonNatives. And from Dan Voshart: "People sharing this story should know the writer Jacqueline Keeler gave Sacheen's anti-immigrant, religious sisters an incomplete and inaccurate genealogy to illicit (sic) the quotes she wanted out of them."
(Read more Sacheen Littlefeather stories.)

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