By Dina Gilio-Whitaker
The subject came up on the August 27 airing of NBC’s Tonight Show while host Jay Leno was talking to comic and FOX-friendly pundit Dennis Miller. The conversation turned to Massachusetts senatorial candidate Elizabeth Warren:
Miller: Elizabeth Warren? Is that the chick that says she’s an Indian?
Leno [chuckling]: Well, yeah, no.
Miller: She’s about as much Indian as that stripper chick Brando sent to pick up his Oscar for The Godfather, all right?
Leno: Check that reference! Hang on, you mean Shawsheen [sic] Littlefeather?
Miller [audience laughter]: Sacheen Littlefeather. Of course I remember!
Leno: 1971 was that? Oh my God!
Miller: You know, I sent the Warren campaign a donation today, but just to piss her off I sent it in beads.
Miller’s comments—and the laughing audience—are glaring reminders that ugly Native American stereotypes are still pervasive. A few weeks after Miller’s appearance with Leno, staffers for Senator Scott Brown, Warren’s opponent, were taped doing tomahawk chops and war whoops as they mocked her campaign. Racial slurs that deny a person’s Native American heritage are a peculiar type of racism, and all the better when the target is a woman, especially one as high profile as Elizabeth Warren or Sacheen Littlefeather.
The spread, which was to have been called “10 Little Indians,” was killed by Playboy editors because of the Wounded Knee confrontation. But a year later the magazine ran the shots of Littlefeather, who had by then rocketed to fame.