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In that enduring minute-long TV spot, viewers watched an Indian paddle his canoe up a polluted and flotsam-filled river, stream past belching smokestacks, come ashore at a litter-strewn river bank, and walk to the edge of a highway, where the occupant of a passing automobile thoughtlessly tossed a bag of trash out the car window to burst open at the astonished visitor’s feet.When the camera moved upwards for a a single tear was seen rolling down the Indian’s face as the narrator dramatically intoned: “People start pollution; people can stop it.” That “crying Indian,” as he would later sometimes be referred to, was Iron Eyes Cody, an actor who throughout his life claimed to be of Cherokee/Cree extraction.



He pledged his life to Native American causes, married an Indian woman (Bertha Parker), adopted two Indian boys (Robert and Arthur), and seldom left home without his beaded moccasins, buckskin jacket and braided wig. Others also falsely claimed this mantle: Even if Iron Eyes was not a true-born Native American, he certainly did a lot of good on behalf of the Native American community, and they generally accepted him as one of them without caring about his true ancestry.

Yet his asserted ancestry was just as artificial as the tear that rolled down his cheek in that television spot tear was glycerine, and the “Indian” a second-generation Italian-American.