New York Times
Unfinished Oscar Speech
BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. -- For 200 years we have said to the Indian people who
are fighting for their land, their life, their families and their right to be
free: ''Lay down your arms, my friends, and then we will remain together. Only
if you lay down your arms, my friends, can we then talk of peace and come to an
agreement which will be good for you.''
When they laid down their arms, we murdered them. We lied to them. We cheated
them out of their lands. We starved them into signing fraudulent agreements that
we called treaties which we never kept. We turned them into beggars on a
continent that gave life for as long as life can remember. And by any
interpretation of history, however twisted, we did not do right. We were not
lawful nor were we just in what we did. For them, we do not have to restore
these people, we do not have to live up to some agreements, because it is given
to us by virtue of our power to attack the rights of others, to take their
property, to take their lives when they are trying to defend their land and
liberty, and to make their virtues a crime and our own vices virtues.
But there is one thing which is beyond the reach of this perversity and that
is the tremendous verdict of history. And history will surely judge us. But do
we care? What kind of moral schizophrenia is it that allows us to shout at the
top of our national voice for all the world to hear that we live up to our
commitment when every page of history and when all the thirsty, starving,
humiliating days and nights of the last 100 years in the lives of the American
Indian contradict that voice?
It would seem that the respect for principle and the love of one's neighbor
have become dysfunctional in this country of ours, and that all we have done,
all that we have succeeded in accomplishing with our power is simply
annihilating the hopes of the newborn countries in this world, as well as
friends and enemies alike, that we're not humane, and that we do not live up to
Perhaps at this moment you are saying to yourself what the hell has all this
got to do with the Academy Awards? Why is this woman standing up here, ruining
our evening, invading our lives with things that don't concern us, and that we
don't care about? Wasting our time and money and intruding in our homes.
I think the answer to those unspoken questions is that the motion picture
community has been as responsible as any for degrading the Indian and making a
mockery of his character, describing his as savage, hostile and evil. It's hard
enough for children to grow up in this world. When Indian children watch
television, and they watch films, and when they see their race depicted as they
are in films, their minds become injured in ways we can never know.
Recently there have been a few faltering steps to correct this situation, but
too faltering and too few, so I, as a member in this profession, do not feel
that I can as a citizen of the United States accept an award here tonight. I
think awards in this country at this time are inappropriate to be received or
given until the condition of the American Indian is drastically altered. If we
are not our brother's keeper, at least let us not be his executioner.
I would have been here tonight to speak to you directly, but I felt that
perhaps I could be of better use if I went to Wounded Knee to help forestall in
whatever way I can the establishment of a peace which would be dishonorable as
long as the rivers shall run and the grass shall grow.
I would hope that those who are listening would not look upon this as a rude
intrusion, but as an earnest effort to focus attention on an issue that might
very well determine whether or not this country has the right to say from this
point forward we believe in the inalienable rights of all people to remain free
and independent on lands that have supported their life beyond living memory.
Thank you for your kindness and your courtesy to Miss Littlefeather. Thank
you and good night.
This statement was written by Marlon Brando for delivery at the Academy
Awards ceremony where Mr. Brando refused an Oscar. The speaker, who read only a
part of it, was Shasheen Littlefeather.