Weeks After Famous Native American Activist Dies, Sisters Step Forward with News That Hints Everything Was a Lie

Sacheen Littlefeather, who became famous for representing Marlon Brando at the 1973 Oscars to refuse his Best Actor award, may have actually lied about her Native American ancestry her family has said following her death at the beginning of October.

In 1973 when Brando won the award for Best Actor for his role in “The Godfather,” he sent Littlefeather to the Oscars in his place.

In her speech, she said that she was Apache and that Brando “very regretfully cannot accept this very generous award.”

“And the reasons for this being are the treatment of American Indians today by the film industry … and on television, in movie re-runs, and also with recent happenings at Wounded Knee. I beg at this time that I have not intruded upon this evening and that we will, in the future, our hearts and our understandings will meet with love and generosity. Thank you on behalf of Marlon Brando,” Littlefeather said in the remarks that became famous.

However, Littlefeather died on Oct. 2, and just weeks after her death, her biological sisters said that she did not have Native American ancestry, according to a San Francisco Chronicle opinion piece that has since gained widespread attention.

Littlefeather’s sisters Rosalind Cruz and Trudy Orlandi told Jacqueline Keeler from the Chronicle that it was a lie.

“It’s a lie. My father was who he was. His family came from Mexico, and my dad was born in Oxnard,” Orlandi said.

“It is a fraud. It’s disgusting to the heritage of the tribal people. And it’s just … insulting to my parents,” Cruz added.

The sisters said that they have “Spanish” ancestry on their father’s side of the family, but said that their family has no Native American ancestry.

“I mean, you’re not gonna be a Mexican American princess. You’re gonna be an American Indian princess. It was more prestigious to be an American Indian than it was to be Hispanic in her mind,” Orlandi said.

Keeler spoke with Littlefeather’s sisters and also looked into her family tree, she explained in her piece for the Chronicle.

She found no evidence of the Apache ancestry that Littlefeather claimed. She also reported that Littlefeather’s real name was Marie Louise Cruz and she was born in Salinas, California.

“My review of her father’s side of the family tree, where she claimed her Native heritage, found no documented ties between his extended family and any extant Native American nations in the United States,” Keeler wrote.

Keeler did find that Littlefeather seemed to have begun claiming Native American ancestry around the time she was a student at San Jose State in the late 1960s.

She was in the very early stages of a modeling career, and Keeler found a video of her modeling Native American outfits, she reported.

In later photos of her in newspapers, Littlefeather was identified as “White Mountain Apache,” and Keeler reported that she also claimed to also have Yaqui ancestry in later years.

But her sisters told Keeler that the family had never claimed to have any Native American heritage.

Cruz even checked with White Mountain Apache officials, but there were no records tying her family to the tribe, Keeler reported.

Littlefeather made other claims about her family that her sisters also rebutted.

She claimed that her family was impoverished, that her parents were “mentally ill” and that she was raised by her grandparents.

Orlandi said that her grandparents lived next door when they were growing up and she and Cruz agreed that their sister seemed to have been borrowing stories from her father’s childhood, not her own.

“My father was deaf, and he had lost his hearing at 9 years old through meningitis. He was born into poverty. His father, George Cruz, was an alcoholic who was violent and used to beat him. And he was passed to foster homes and family. But my sister Sacheen took what happened to him,” Cruz told Keeler.

“My father’s father, George, he was the alcoholic. 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 also said.

The sisters said that they wanted to publicly comment on their sister’s claims over the years because they wanted to set the record straight about their parents who they said were good and hardworking parents.

The comments from Littlefeather’s sisters have stirred up a lot of controversy, and many have claimed they are trying to disparage her work and have criticized Keeler’s piece.

“Even in the event where Sacheen Littlefeather isn’t Native, she made a big, BIG statement in support and solidarity for Native people and her career was destroyed for it. Most ‘allies’ won’t even risk THAT much,” one Twitter user posted.

But others have criticized Littlefeather for allegedly adopting an identity that was false.

“Basing your whole persona around a fraudulent identity is one thing, but what I genuinely can’t imagine is being raised by normal, decent parents and then telling the world they were abusive etc as part of your fraud,” journalist Tom Gara tweeted.

Keeler reported that neither Cruz nor Orlandi were invited to their sister’s funeral.

“The best way that I could think of summing up my sister is that she created a fantasy,” Orlandi told Keeler.  “She lived in a fantasy, and she died in a fantasy.”

This article appeared originally on The Western Journal.