Reports of the “Academy” attempting to right a wrong are circulating widely. Headlines like this, Academy Honors Sacheen Littlefeather with ‘Long Overdue’ Apology After Mistreatment at 1973 Oscars, cover all mainstream media. A sample of the coverage can be sampled here:
After the Indigenous actress and activist, 75, faced mistreatment at the 45th Academy Awards in 1973, the institution has offered her an apology as they prepare to honor her at an event next month, according to The Hollywood Reporter.
“I was stunned. I never thought I’d live to see the day I would be hearing this, experiencing this. When I was at the podium in 1973, I stood there alone,” she said of turning down the Oscar for Best Actor on behalf of Marlon Brando and his performance in The Godfather, using the speech to call out the film industry’s treatment of Native Americans.
Her speech also drew attention to the standoff a month before in the South Dakota town of Wounded Knee, where American Indian Movement activists protested the treatment of Native Americans. The U.S. Department of Justice had previously imposed a media blackout on the issue.
In addition to being threatened with arrest if her speech went over 60 seconds, as well as physical violence from John Wayne, who she said attempted to storm the stage, Littlefeather has since faced public mockery over the years for the historic moment.
“You know, I never stood up onstage in 1973 for any kind of accolades,” she told THR. “I only stood there because my ancestors were with me, and I spoke the truth.”
“Yes, there’s an apology that’s due. As my friends in the Native community said, it’s long overdue. I could have been dead by now,” added Littlefeather, who is living with metastasized breast cancer.
Littlefeather, who is Apache and Yaqui, previously lost her husband Charles Koshiway to blood cancer last November. “His spirit is still here with me, and I know that what he wanted for me was always justice and reconciliation,” she said.
She added of the attendees who stood by as she was harassed: “When they got to the other side, I’m sure that my ancestors spoke to them on my behalf. And I’m sure Mr. Charles went over there and had a talk with them immediately. I’m sure his first target was John Wayne.”
In 1990, Littlefeather told PEOPLE of the fallout she faced in response to her Oscars moment. “I’m officially retired as the refuser of Academy Awards,” she said, noting that the speech killed her career in Hollywood.
“I went up there thinking I could make a difference,” explained Littlefeather. “I was very naive. I told people about oppression. They said, ‘You’re ruining our evening.'”
The gesture does very little to remediate the historical injustices experienced by indigenous peoples around the world, and Native Americans, especially. In fact, it might be a way for such institutions to benefit twice from the exploitation of indigenous peoples: first when they plundered their resources and exploited the people, and now from polishing their image in an era when “inclusion” cliches became good business strategy.