The majority of Americans shared similar racist views as Ethan. This scene shows Ethan shooting a dead Native American in the eyes so that he cannot enter the spirit world, instead he must wander the winds forever. Throughout the film Ethan refers to Martin as blanket, which is another racist term to describe Indians, this shows his demeaning attitude towards Native Americans and does not refrain from speaking his mind regardless of the situation.
A critic called Pye argues that "Ethan's obsessive hatred of Indians and the idea of mixed blood are presented in ways designed to distance us from him." This suggests that Ethan is not a true representation of the myths of the West as the audience are supposed to feel distance from him because that is not an accurate portrayal of how white men felt at the time. However Ethan is a bitter character who has personal resentment of the Comanche tribe due to personal experiences regarding his wife. The significance of this scene is that it is one of the first brutal acts we see Ethan do, following this he gradually becomes darker and more driven to kill any Native American that gets in the way of saving Debbie.
Furthermore as Ethan is played by John Wayne who is famous for his roles in the western genre, some critics argue that this has an impact on how the audience perceive Ethan as a character despite his constant racist remarks. John Wayne is notoriously known for his portrayal of a western hero so for him to play a character that is considered to be evil makes it difficult for the audience to distance themselves as Pye would argue. He is still depicted as a hero but has a dark side which makes his character interesting and is a move away from the traditional western hero that would represent the west. Particularly as he has a strong, masculine persona that despite being the hero can be intimidating to some of the characters in the film as he is reluctant to take orders. His leadership ability intertwines with his racist attitude because he is in control, so can be as savage as he wants to be when killing the Native Americans. Yet in the western genre it is the Native Americans who are portrayed as being savage and uncivilised which challenges the traditional conventions of the western genre.