Editorial by Tony Gonzales: Sacheen Littlefeather at the Cross Roads, Still
(An edited & shortered version of this editorial was recently published in the San Framcisco Chronicle in response to their article on Sacheen Littlefeather. Below is the original unedited editorial)
To the Editor,
Just off the trail with Indigenous Peoples Day - Monday, October 10, 2022 a date celebrated by all Indigenous Peoples across the Americas (Aba-Yala) and at Alcatraz Island (annual) Sunrise Gathering - the San Francisco Chronicle published claims that the recently deceased Sacheen Littlefeather was not Native after all. Sadly, the Chronicle made no effort to examine the deeper meaning of what it means to be Native and who decides.
I was born in Fresno California, the child of Migrant farm workers, campesinos from Mexico. I was sent to various foster homes since I was 7 years old until I was shortly drafted into the US Army. I am a combat infantryman who served in Vietnam in 1968-69, disabled, two purple-hearts, while with the 9th Infantry Division, 3/47th. I also became politized during my army experiences. I became aware of many injustices that existed then and now. When I returned to the States I became active in the anti-war movement, and the War on Poverty in the Chicano community. I also began to explore the Indigenous Comca’Ac roots of my parents. I was a part of the Chicano peoples struggling for equality and within the Indigenous peoples. So many from Mexico and so many born here in el norte undeniably carry Indigenous ancestry.
The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences presented Sacheen Littlefeather with a public apology for her appearance at the 1973 Oscar Awards night on behalf of Marlon Brando for the movie “The God Father.’ I appreciate Sacheen Littlefeather for her clarity and bravery in confronting that room filled with people who reviled her. She stepped up at that moment for Indigenous people's human rights, honoring the Treaties, and for the Warriors at Wounded Knee 73’ which was at a crucial juncture at that time.
Many of us grew up with our Native origins, history, culture, spirituality and traditions wiped out. Whether it was boarding schools, foster homes, the Catholic Church or Hollywood, Native peoples have spent the greater part of the last 60 years shedding the false narratives of who is/isn’t Native and building a global movement that speaks to Native People’s whether they grew up as Mexican, Filipino, South/Central American or in some instances a White American. (The US Census 2012 final report listed Mexican-American Indios as the fifth largest Indigenous tribe in the US, go figure).
Today, we all share the “UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples” which was adopted by the UN General Assembly in September 2007. The US government was the last country to adopt the Declaration in December 2010. The Chronicle, too, missed the point. The criteria is not, as the SF Chronicle ill-informed article suggests whether you are an enrolled member of a federally (USA) recognized tribe, but rather whether you own your true heritage (self-identifying) and live it every day. The road back home is long and sometimes hard.
This is why we celebrate Indigenous Peoples Day, in the process of De-Colonization and rejecting Papal Bulls, this is the legacy left by Sacheen Littlefeather.
Ajo! May she rest in peace.
AIM-West Executive Director