Native American activist Sacheen Littlefeather, whose historic and headline-making surprise appearance at the 1973 Academy Awards was heard around the world, has died at 75 years old.

Littlefeather passed away Sunday in the Northern California city of Novato after a years-long battle with breast cancer that had metastasized in recent years, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

It’s been nearly 50 years since Littlefeather — then 26 — took the stage in place of Marlon Brando, who won the Best Actor Oscar for “The Godfather”, and delivered a message on Brando’s behalf about the mistreatment and oppression of Native Americans.

On Sunday, The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced her passing, tweeting, “Sacheen Littlefeather, Native American civil rights activist who famously declined Marlon Brando’s 1973 Best Actor Academy Award, dies at 75.”

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Sacheen LittlefeatherAcademy Museum ‘An Evening with Sacheen Littlefeather’, Los Angeles, California, USA – 17 Sep 2022
Sacheen LittlefeatherAcademy Museum ‘An Evening with Sacheen Littlefeather’, Los Angeles, California, USA – 17 Sep 2022 — Photo: Rob Latour/Shutterstock

In August, The Academy shared an apology for the subsequent fallout from her act of protest. Academy president David Rubin issued a letter to Littlefeather on the Academy’s behalf, praising her speech and the impact it had.

“As you stood on the Oscars stage in 1973 to not accept the Oscar on behalf of Marlon Brando, in recognition of the misrepresentation and mistreatment of Native American people by the film industry, you made a powerful statement that continues to remind us of the necessity of respect and the importance of human dignity,” Rubin said of Littlefeather’s remarks at the ceremony in the letter.

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“The abuse you endured because of this statement was unwarranted and unjustified. The emotional burden you have lived through and the cost to your own career in our industry are irreparable,” the letter continued. “For too long the courage you showed has been unacknowledged. For this, we offer both our deepest apologies and our sincere admiration.”

“Today, nearly 50 years later, and with the guidance of the Academy’s Indigenous Alliance, we are firm in our commitment to ensuring indigenous voices-the original storytellers-are visible, respected contributors to the global film community,” the apology expressed. “We are dedicated to fostering a more inclusive, respectful industry that leverages a balance of art and activism to be a driving force for progress.”

“We hope you receive this letter in the spirit of reconciliation and as recognition of your essential role in our journey as an organization,” Rubin concluded the apology. “You are forever respectfully engrained in our history.”

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