IF YOU WATCHED television at any point in the seventies, you saw him: America’s most famous Indian. Star of perhaps the best-known public service announcement ever, he was a black-braided, buckskinned, cigar-store native come to life, complete with single feather and stoic frown. In the spot’s original version, launched by Keep America Beautiful on Earth Day 1971, he paddles his canoe down a pristine river to booming drumbeats. He glides past flotsam and jetsam. The music grows bombastic, wailing up a movie-soundtrack build. He rows into a city harbor: ship, crane, a scrim of smog. The Indian pulls his boat onto a bank strewn with litter and gazes upon a freeway.
“Some people have a deep, abiding respect for the natural beauty that was once this country,” intones a basso profundo voice, “and some people don’t.” On those words, someone flings a bag of trash from a passing car. It scatters at the Indian’s feet. He looks into the camera for the money shot. A single tear rolls down his cheek.