Sacheen Littlefeather and the Question of Native Identity
The following is adapted from an article originally published in the February 2020 issue of Native Appropriations:
Sacheen Littlefeather is the daughter of an Ojibwe woman from the northern Minnesota village of Brainerd. Her family lived on a reservation in the area of the St. Croix River and when she was five years old, she and the tribal community of her childhood were told that a white man named James Walker had offered his marriage to her father in exchange for a tract of land. Walker’s land was purchased by the Ojibwe tribe in 1845 and a few years later, the Walker family moved on to land in the area of the Chippewa River that soon became their ancestral lands. As a young girl, Littlefeather attended the first public school in her native territory. When she was ten years old, as a teenager, she met and fell in love with a non-Native man whose family had lived beside her family on the reservation for generations. In his teens, David Littlefeather left the reservation in a bid for freedom. Littlefeather became a founding member of the newly formed Twin Rivers Indian Association. She became a prominent and successful writer and activist.
As was true of so many other Native women and men, Littlefeather’s life was shaped by a quest for authenticity. As a woman of Ojibwe heritage, Littlefeather understood herself as Ojibwe but also as human and as Native, with the need to be both. “I was Ojibwe and could be called a Native American for the fact of how I was raised and how I came to be in this world, but at the same time I was human and that’s what makes me who I am,” she said. In the aftermath of her affair with her white lover, Littlefeather returned to the reservation and began her life again, this time with two other women from her tribal community. Littlefeather married a white man