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The Lie Behind 'The Crying Indian'

On Earth Day, 1971, Keep America Beautiful launched what was called one of the "50 greatest commercials of all time." Dubbed "The Crying Indian," the one-minute ad featured a Native American man paddling down a junk-infested river, surrounded by smog, pollution, and trash. The camera then panned to the Indian's cheerless face just as a single tear rolls down his cheek.

The ad's star performer, a man called "Iron Eyes Cody," became the "face of Native Indians," and was honored with a star on Hollywood's Walk of Fame. Long before his fame in the 1970s, Iron Eyes Cody was featured as "the noble Indian," starring in a variety of Western films alongside actors like John Wayne and Ronald Reagan. By all accounts, he was Hollywood's—and America's—favorite Native American.

But several (real) Native American actors soon came to doubt Iron Eyes' authenticity. Jay Silverheels, the Indian actor who played "Tonto" in The Lone Ranger, and Running Deer, a Native American stuntman, agreed that there was something strangely off-putting about the man's heritage.

Then a reporter visited Iron Eyes Cody's hometown and made a startling discovery: both his parents were full-blooded Italians. How did he fake his real identity for so long? Apparently the residents of his hometown in Louisiana were too invested in supporting their successful local boy. Hollywood, along with the ad agencies that profited from his image, relied on his false image. Even after his history was revealed, old Iron Eyes Cody refused to admit the truth behind his public personae. He continued to wear his braided wig, headdress, and moccasins, and kept talking about his connection to "the Great Spirit."

Possible Preaching Angles: In the same way, as followers of Christ are we pretending to be someone or something that we are not? Are we being true to who we really are in Christ?

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