Apologizing To, and Learning From, Native Americans


There have been spotty and minor reparations to Native Americans, including one this year to Sacheen Littlefeather.

Native American

Joy Fera/AdobeStock


Dedicated to Carl Hammerschlag, MD, 4/18/39-1/21/22

A day after I found out and wrote a daily column about the Kaiser strike by mental health care clinicians, I read about an apology by the of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for the 1973 Oscar ceremonies. At that ceremony, Marlin Brando refused to accept his award as best actor in his portrayal of Vito Corleone in “The Godfather.” Instead, he sent a young woman in Native dress, identified as Sacheen Littlefeather. She talked about the problematic treatment of American Indians by the film industry and was by no means warmly welcomed.

This past June 18th, the Academy publicly apologized to Littlefeather in a “statement of reconciliation,” which included:

“The emotional burden you have lived through and the loss to your own career in our industry are irreparable.”

That line directly connects the movie industry to the psychiatric field. About a year ago, the Psychiatric Reparations Opportunities (PRO) and Andrew McLean, MD, made a case for psychiatric reparations to various minority groups, including Native Americans.1 Clearly past traumas with intergenerational transmission, as well as current challenges, have left Native Americans with high rates of mental illness and incarceration. Elsewhere, I have called this “aparttime.” There have been spotty and minor reparations in terms of land and a tucked away governmental apology.

Native Americans do have their own healing practices that have helped coping. The late great psychiatrist Carl Hammerschlag, MD, wrote about what he had learned from them, including how to dance.2 I tried to capture his work in a eulogy soon after his death.3

What the nearly 50-year gap between Brando’s award refusal tells us is that such walk-offs, turn-downs, and strikes may have beneficial outcomes many years later as activism and history plays out. Repairing past psychological damage takes time, but can be done.

Dr Moffic is an award-winning psychiatrist who has specialized in the cultural and ethical aspects of psychiatry. A prolific writer and speaker, he received the one-time designation of Hero of Public Psychiatry from the Assembly of the American Psychiatric Association in 2002. He is an advocate for mental health issues related to climate instability, burnout, Islamophobia, and anti-Semitism for a better world. He serves on the Editorial Board of Psychiatric Times™.


1. Moffic HD, Bailey R, McLean A, Okamoto T. The case for psychiatric reparations. Psychiatric Times. 2021;38(8).

2. Hammerschlag C. The Dancing Healers: A Doctor’s Journey of Healing with Native Americans. HarperOne; 1989.

3. Moffic HS. The death of our dancing healer, Carl Hammerschlag, MD. Psychiatric Times. January 25, 2022. https://www.psychiatrictimes.com/view/the-death-of-our-dancing-healer-carl-hammerschlag-md

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