Killing the white man's red man
Since the dawn of Hollywood, films about Indians have sold. Ralph and Natasha Friar, in their excellent and lively history The Only Good Indian: The Hollywood Gospel (Drama Book Specialists, 1972; the main branch of Santa Fe Public Library has a copy), list the films made each year about Indians. 1909 brought Custer's Last Stand, Half Breed's Treachery, Hiawatha, The Indian Runner's Romance, On the Warpath, The Redman's View, The Seminole's Vengeance, and The True Heart of an Indian, for instance. The authors write that between 100 and 200 Westerns were made every year during the silent era, most dealing with Indians and most ensuring that the "red man" met his end in the final reel.
This is the message of the monuments and mascots that "honor" dead Indians. It's why the images are usually impossibly noble and romantic. We "love" Indians the way they were. We regret that they're no longer that way. How sad that these mighty warriors have "vanished."
And what does our failure to honor today's Indians imply? That they haven't done anything worth honoring. These days the military names ships after George H.W. Bush and Jimmy Carter, but the Indian names it uses are primarily warrior stereotypes: Apache, Tomahawk, Lakota. Even the incongruous USS Mesa Verde is named for an ancient Indian site.
Message to the world: US presidents have accomplished things recently, but Indians haven't accomplished anything since the Indian Wars. Sure, they gave us a good fight before our God-given superiority defeated them. Now they're just losers--irrelevant and invisible. They used to matter, but they don't anymore.
For more on the subject, see The Best Indian Movies and America's Cultural Mindset.
Below: Love the "rising sun" motif of this image. I wonder if the artist was consciously or unconsciously equating the Indian "enemy" with our (former) Japanese enemies.