Meet the family of Sacheen Littlefeather where we will unwrap information about her father, mother, and husband.
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the body that oversees the Oscars, has issued a formal apology to actress and native elder Sacheen Littlefeather. The American activist appeared at the 1973 Academy Awards ceremony as part of Marlon Brando’s refusal to accept his award.
Although Brando won the best actor Oscar for his portrayal of Vito Corleone in The Godfather, he chose not to accept it in support of Native American rights. This decision was partly motivated by the American Indian Movement’s ongoing two-month occupation of the site of the 1890 Wounded Knee Massacre (AIM).
Sacheen instead opted not to accept the award from presenters Roger Moore and Liv Ullmann and instead gave a brief speech in which she claimed that Brando’s stance was motivated by “the treatment of American Indians today by the film industry … and on television, in movie reruns, and also with recent happenings at Wounded Knee.”
So, who are her family members? What tribe did she hail from? Who is her husband? Learn about her family members here in this article.
Who Are Sacheen Littlefeather Family Members?
Sacheen Littlefeather was born Marie Louise Cruz to her parents Manuel Ybarra Cruz and Geroldine Marie Barnitz on 14 November 1946 in Salinas, California. Although she was conceived in Arizona, her mother left to meet up with her parents in California towards the end of her pregnancy. Her mother ended up in Salinas and that was where Sacheen was born.
Learn more about her other family members here.
Meet Sacheen Littlefeather Father, Manuel Ybarra Cruz
Sacheen Littlefeather was born to her father Manuel Ybarra Cruz. Speaking to Native American Times, Sacheen described her father as a violent alcoholic. She claimed that her father didn’t value women.” She described her father as abusive in a 1976 television interview and said that their mother and two sisters had to endure their father’s fury and beatings.
Sacheen said, “Just being a female was a drawback. Around him, I was very quiet. It was the best way to be or else.”
Manuel was born in 1922 and was of White Mountain Apache, Yaqui, and Pueblo ancestry. Cruz was her father’s tribal name. He was a native of Oxnard, California. Manuel was deaf after he lost his hearing as a little boy. Manuel grew up in a household filled with alcoholics.
Sacheen shared in an interview, “I didn’t know much about my dad’s family other than they drank a lot.”
He owned and operated Cruz Saddlery. He and his wife started their business by making saddles and horse equipment out of the back of a pickup truck.
Sacheen explained, “She met my dad there [Phoenix]. He was White Mountain Apache and Yaqui. He was an expert saddle maker”. She added, “He taught her how to make saddles.”
Manuel died at the age of 44 in Salinas in 1966 where he had been living for 20 years. Besides his own family, he was also survived by his sister Mrs. Lucy Argott of Canoga Park, California.
She claimed that Sacheen was the name she was given by her father before he passed away, while Littlefeather was derived from the feather she usually wore in her hair.
Meet Sacheen Littlefeather Mother, Geroldine Marie Barnitz
Geroldine Marie Barnitz was described by Sacheen Littlefeather as a “free spirit”. She is of French-German-Dutch ancestry.
In a 1974 interview, Sacheen stated that her mother left her father when she was 3 and took her to live with her maternal grandparents. At the time, she had Tuberculosis and her grandparents came in and saved her life. Later, Geroldine left her to be raised by her white grandparents, Sacheen’s grandmother Marie Barnitz (Sacheen’s namesake) who she lovingly referred to as a “Modern Day Millie” and her grandfather Gerold “Barney” Barnitz, who had served in the military during World War I.
This has been characterized as her either being “adopted” or in foster care. “He had big hands. He’d always take my little hand in his and we’d pray together. We used to say the rosary together,” she said about her grandfather.
Sacheen spent some time with her mother. She remembers traveling with her through Mississippi. That was when she realized she was different. “My mom used one restroom and I had to use the other,” she said. “I had to use the ‘black’ drinking faucets and the ‘black’ bathroom. That is something I remember vividly. That and the sign, ‘No Dogs or Indians Allowed.”
Geroldine continued running the business after her father’s death. Before her marriage, she worked as a leather stamper who trained in Phoenix. While some accounts maintain that Geroldine learned to make a saddle from her husband, another account maintains that Geroldine learned the craft from Leo Leonard, who owned Leonard Saddle Co in Santa Barbara.
Who Are Sacheen Littlefeather Siblings?
Sacheen Littlefeather had two sisters; Trudy and Rosalind Cruz. Not much is known about her two sisters.
Does Sacheen Littlefeather Have A Husband?
Sacheen Littlefeather was married to her soulmate Charles Thomas Johnston (Koshiway). The night before they met, Sacheen had a dream in which she saw an Indian man wearing a white Stetson cowboy hat. She woke up the next morning, went to a Pow Wow, and met the man in her dream. Charles tipped his cowboy hat, looked directly into Sacheen’s eyes, and with a soft Oklahoma accent asked, “How are you?” This was the beginning of 32 wonderful years together.
Charles was born on 29 August 1942. He was an enrolled member of the Otoe-Missouria Tribe of Oklahoma. Charles was born to Charles Johnston (part Delaware) and Thelma Gertrude Koshiway (Otoe/Sac&Fox).
He was a member of the Eagle and Bear Clans. In 1914, his ancestor, Jonathan Koshiway was one of the early leaders of the Native American Church. Charles’ family moved to California on Indian Relocation when he was just two years old, and he lived there the rest of his life.
Charles served in the Vietnam war and was initiated into the “Southern Cheyenne Combat Veterans Gourd Society” in Albuquerque, New Mexico in 1992. He was a master of bird calls, and when he called them, birds flocked to him.
Charles was a member of the Otoe Eloska and danced regularly at the Osage I-Lon-schka and the California Hethushka.
They didn’t share any children. In his lifetime Charles and Sacheen adopted a young baby girl, Coleen, from Korea. He raised her as his own. Charles died on 22 November 2021 after his battle with cancer at the age of 79.
Where Does Sacheen Littlefeather Family Reside?
Sacheen Littlefeather’s currently living in different parts of California. She is currently based in San Rafael, California.
Who Else From The Sacheen Littlefeather Family Is Still Alive?
Although Sacheen Littlefeather is private, among her family members, the surviving family members could be her sisters, their respective family, and her daughter Coleen.
Is Anyone From The Sacheen Littlefeather Family In The Limelight?
No, it is likely Coleen is the only member of the family who is in the limelight.