It’s all a very culturally insensitive stunt from the 1920s, apparently. According to the caption on the back of this Getty Images photo, with the city skyline in view:
“Often romanticized, native people were hired to help promote New York events and locales. In 1927, amid much fanfare, So-Tsien-O-Wa-Ne (Chief Great Fire), a local Iroquois man, began patrolling Central Park’s lake in a canoe.”
A New York Times article from April 16 of that year has this to say:
“The Indian, an Iroquois, is to glide hither and thither around the three-mile stretch of water, preserve order, and lend local color. . . . He has lived for some years in Brooklyn, although born on a reservation in Montreal. On duty, Chief Great Fire will be attired in the usual buckskin clothes with plenty of feathers attached.”
It’s not the first time the city has officially sanctioned putting a human being more or less on display, as this story, of a man who lived for a short time in the Bronx Zoo, reveals.