At the ceremony, Littlefeather appeared in Marlon Brando’s place to reject his Academy Award for Best Actor, for his performance in Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather.
Standing onstage in front of the biggest stars of Hollywood, the 26-year-old instead delivered a speech condemning the film industry’s poor representation of Native American people.
She also highlighted the events at Wounded Knee, South Dakota, where a massacre of Native Americans took place in 1890, and where protests were taking place as the awards ceremony unfolded.
At the time, her speech was met by both booing and applause from those in attendance. It was also claimed that actor John Wayne attempted to approach Littlefeather onstage but was held back.
President David Rubin acknowledged the “abuse [she] endured because of this statement” – terming Hollywood’s treatment of Littlefeather “unwarranted and unjustified”.
In the letter dated 18 June, he continued: “The emotional burden you have lived through and the cost to your own career in our industry are irreparable. For too long the courage you showed has been unacknowledged. For this, we offer both our deepest apologies and our sincere admiration.”
A month later, Littlefeather gave an interview in which she said she believed Wayne was responsible for the “most violent moment” in the history of the Oscars.
“I found out that he had been restrained by six security men from assaulting me while I was on that stage,” she told Variety. “That was the most violent moment that had ever taken place at the Academy Awards.”
Explaining that she heard of Wayne’s alleged reaction from a security guard, Littlefeather continued: “He was never admonished by the Academy. It was never published in the press. But the most violent moments took place then and there at the Academy Awards by John Wayne.”
Despite the reaction to her speech and subsequent blacklisting from Hollywood, Littlefeather said she did not have any negative feelings towards those involved.
“All I know is that… I don’t hold anger, hate or have any animosity toward anyone, including the Academy and the John Waynes of the world,” she said.
“I’m not a wealthy person. I’m a poor person. I don’t have much, but I do what I can. I try not to judge others. So, what other people want to do and what they feel in their hearts, they have to do.”