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Sacheen Littlefeather

Why the Native American activist Sacheen Littlefeather Was Not Afraid To Die

Many of us, including Sacheen Littlefeather, started crying at one point in our interview with him earlier this year.


Jacqueline Stewart, the president of the museum, questioned Sacheen during our interview for LAist Studios’ The Academy Museum podcast about what motivated her to engage in politics and organising in the 1960s. Although stiff, her response radiated conviction. She talked about how painful it was to learn that Martin Luther King, Jr. had been killed.


When she learned of his passing, she commented, “It absolutely shattered my heart.” I was young at the time, but I didn’t think it was necessary because he was telling the truth.


Sacheen, who passed away on Sunday at the age of 75, understood the importance of telling the truth no matter what would happen. She was mocked and faced less acting opportunities after she turned down Marlon Brando’s Oscar in 1973.


She had appeared on stage that evening during the Academy Awards on Brando’s behalf. He had prepared a lengthy speech against the mistreatment of native Americans in Hollywood and at that same time in Wounded Knee, South Dakota.


But Sacheen was informed that if she spoke for too long or off the top of her head, they would remove her from the stage.


I’m the senior producer for the show, and as I listened to her remarks from 1973, which were succinct, polite, and remorseful but forceful, it was almost difficult for me to understand why they caused such a rift.


Nearly 50 years after that night, which is still among the most infamous and disputed in Oscar history, she sat down with us in April. Knowing that her tale would be essential to a podcast that would relive crucial events for the Academy Awards, we spent an hour and a half with her.


Even though Sacheen’s health had already deteriorated, she managed to keep a sense of humour the entire time she talked to us about her worries and traumatic past. She cracked some poor dad jokes while laughing aloud.


“When my sense of humour strikes, I enjoy it. You are aware that humour is medicine, “she revealed. “As a result, that is how native people have always recovered from their suffering and the genocide. I believe that despite all of the sorrow and suffering over the ages, our wonderful sense of humour has kept us going.


At the conclusion of the conversation, Sacheen assured us that she was prepared for anything.


She replied, “Well, you know, I’m not frightened to die, right?” “A lot of people are terrified to pass away because they did filthy, rotten, and evil things and because they were so frugal with their money rather than giving and being kind.”


She clarified:

“But among the Native Americans, handouts are commonplace. Never have I treated anyone improperly or badly. And my forefathers are standing by to greet me. I am confident I am going somewhere excellent. This is the reason why a Native American might say, “This is an excellent day to die.” Because you are aware of this in your spirit and in your heart. And before we leave, we begin to give away all we own so that we have nothing left to hold to. even our bodies cannot. That does not travel with us. Our spirit is unbound.

The Academy officially apologised to Sacheen not long after the airing of the programme 1973: Marlon Brando Cannot Accept This Very Generous Award. She concluded her speech with these words for her fellow Native Americans in the audience at an occasion held last month at the Academy Museum in Los Angeles:


“When I’m gone, please remember that anytime you stand up for your truth, you’ll be preserving my voice, the voices of our nations, and the voices of our people.”

Brandon James

Brandon James is a Journalist at Flaunt Weekly.

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