At least Senator Elizabeth Warren had the sense to drop the act long before she became famous. Hollywood, activism and academia though seem to be full of perpetual fake Indians. And, unlike Iron Eyes Cody, of the crying Indian garbage ad, some do real damage.
Sacheen Littlefeather spent her “career” as an activist. And like most Indian activists, she was a fraud.
You might not know her name, but you’ve probably seen the video that made her famous. In 1973, actress and activist Sacheen Littlefeather took the stage at the Oscars dressed in a beaded buckskin dress in place of Marlon Brando, after he was awarded Best Actor for his role as Vito Corleone in “The Godfather.” Claiming Apache heritage, she spoke eloquently, to a backdrop of boos, of the mistreatment of Native Americans by the film industry and beyond.
Her sisters have come forward, long after the fact, to reveal that she was half-Mexican, not Indian at all.
“It’s a lie,” Orlandi told me in an exclusive interview. “My father was who he was. His family came from Mexico. And my dad was born in Oxnard.”
“It is a fraud,” Cruz agreed. “It’s disgusting to the heritage of the tribal people. And it’s just … insulting to my parents.”
Beyond the Oscar appearance, Cruz took part in the Alcatraz occupation (raising the question of whether there were any actual Indians there, or just cosplaying leftists) and attacked Nixon while serving as a spokeswoman for the National American Indian Council which was notorious for the same thing.
It’s not as if this would have been hard to figure out. She never looked like anything except a bad actress portraying a cheesy Hollywood idea of an Indian woman.
Cruz claimed that ‘Littlefeather’ came from the name her father called her and that her mother took her away from her abusive father when she was 4. She tried monetizing her fake Indian routine with cheesy movies and a Playboy spread before Brando picked her up for a little epater le bourgeois. And yet people kept buying her nonsense.
The Academy museum, which infamously made no mention of the Jewish figures in Hollywood history, had a special event celebrating her in September.
Sacheen invites you to a special celebration of live Native American performances featuring a long-awaited statement of apology from the Academy. The evening’s program will include a land acknowledgement courtesy of Virginia Carmelo (Tongva/So. CA), and a conversation between Sacheen and Academy Member, producer, and co-chair of the Academy’s Indigenous Alliance Bird Runningwater (Cheyenne/Mescalero Apache/NM).
It was all fake all along.
And Cruz is one of countless fake Indians who pervade the media, academia and the entertainment industry because they provide a politically convenient tool for attacking America.
It would take a heart of stone not to laugh at this Indian Country profile of her nonsense.
It was a quiet protest, delivered as Sacheen Littlefeather lived her life — with dignity, grace, compassion and honesty, the way her ancestors would have wanted.
As the first Indigenous woman ever to stand at the podium at the Academy Awards, she put a spotlight on the inhumanity, stereotypes, disrespect and derision that Indigenous people faced in film and television, and brought the Wounded Knee protest to an international audience.
“I did not go up there in protest, with an up-in-the-air fist, with profanity, with a loud, screeching voice,” Littlefeather, now 75, Apache and Yaqui, told ICT in a recent interview. “The way that I went up on stage was prompted by my ancestors. I prayed that my words would meet not with deaf ears but with open hearts and open minds.”
Especially the honesty part. Did everyone really not know? I doubt it. But politics trumps truth.