The Boy Scouts of America have a complex weave of programs available. Among the most secretive and exclusive is the Order of the Arrow. The secrets of which are not insidious but more kept secret for effect. It is an honorary service group within Boy Scouts meant to, like everything else in Boy Scouts, boost participation and teach work ethic. The members are voted in by their fellow scouts and inducted in a ceremony at a participating camp.
In this ceremony, members of the Order of the Arrow dress in the cloths of the Delaware Native American tribes and tell stories that symbolize qualities that the BSA teach.
I admit this is a bad example as it is mostly borrowed from other boys. This picture was taken and after I visited a troop for their induction elections. I made those leggings poorly our of a chunk of leather and did not bother making anything else.
Most regalia sets I came across had leggings, breach cloth, belt, trapper shirt and an assortment of accessories. Trapper shirt, named for the french trappers who wore them and traded with the northern natives of modern-day America and Canada. For the most part, boys make regalia themselves.
How did this start? “The Order of the Arrow was founded by Dr. E. Urner Goodman and Carroll A. Edson in 1915 at the Treasure Island Camp of the Philadelphia Council, Boy Scouts of America.” (1) Is the exact statement on so many BSA websites that I don’t know the main source.
The mark of the induction ceremony is solemness. troops are guided in silence. The only sound is the steady beating drum, the crackle of the fire, and the sounds of the surrounding forest. The boys and sometimes adult leaders are approached in silence and take the inductees away one at a time.
The next time the inductees are seen might be seen walking or working in silence with in a small group of also mute workers, or after they are a full member and are not allowed to share their secrets.
I can think of several positives from this practice. First it is cool on several levels. There is a call of authenticity. Making regalia is a rewarding activity and there is a community full of advice and support. Boys buy and borrow books, pictures guilds to help one another (One such guide ) (2). No matter the results of how the clothing looks, it still takes a lot of work and research to make clothing. Which is a lot of research that gets skipped over in schools that focus on wars and battles in history.
The Order has taken criticism from Tribes and worked to keep their blessing. The emblem and several practices like face painting have been changed or abandoned out of respect. Working with native American tribes has brought some of the best preservation of culture. Like the Spokane baseball team that uses the Salish language.
On the other side, we do have a widening understanding of cultural appropriation and the damage it can do. The practices are not accurate to any ceremony used by any one tribe. It is done for effect to be cool and makes the onlookers only get this one taste of culture. Mysterious and noble stories around a fire. It is not inherently bad but still shrouds itself in mystery. Native American’s are still very much treated like an other.
The Boy Scouts of America is a Christian organization. Any boy is allowed to join but in order to earn the highest rank of Eagle Scout, a boy must believe in an ultimate higher power. This distinction is made by a board of review set by the chapter of the Boy Scouts of America. Boys who do all other requirements and reach their board of review will fail if they hold agnostic or atheistic reviews. The religions of various tribes may not even be considered by some boards.
Even though, the current state of the Order of the Arrow carries approval, when it started in 1915, it was because it was neat and the native American’s were tied to the mystery of the forest. It was just four years after what is famously known as the Last Massacre in Nevada, 1911. One in a long list of massacres.
It isn’t just a culture from the other side of the world. It is the culture of this land and it is often treated as this mystic other. Native American’s are Americans. They dress the same, have the same goals and work in the same conditions. Tribes look a lot like towns. Reservations have their own police and authority of law. There are a couple hundred tribes, today and recognized by the US Government. Several entire cultures were wiped out in battles, massacres, relocation, and conflation. Before the Spokane baseball team where education, three people spoke Salish. Some tribes are even forgotten by name. There was a people who lived here and so little was understood about them that ‘they might as well be from India.’ There are mass graves of women and children. It is completely understandable that an estimated one hundred million deaths that it is out-of-bounds to wear the ‘fun headdress’ to a party.
Preservation and study of culture is a good and interesting thing. Cultures are cool and interesting. There was a controversy a few months ago when people were being dressed in Kimono, a Japanese formal way of dressing. This thought was exciting to current Japanese who heard about it but to the Japanese American’s who saw it, they took offense to it(8). Both feelings are completely understandable.Unlike Japan and most cultures that contribute to the American melding pot, Native American’s don’t have their homelands. They don’t just contribute but they are all-in.
The Scouts use part of area’s tribal dress to great affect, the dress they used after about two hundred years of French and European influence. They may not let a Native American scout their highest rank but the advancement policies may not effect how well they treat the culture they use. It may not teach or meant to teach the life of Delaware Nationals but it caries the blessing of tribes and may not need to strictly educational. Even though, the use of regalia was made more than ninety years ago, it doesn’t mean we should blindly continue or we should stop without considering the positives. It is our part to make thoughtful choices to peaceably live and grow together.
1. Order of the Arrow’s official site http://www.scouting.org/scoutsource/BoyScouts/OrderoftheArrow.aspx
2. Order of the Arrow resource site http://www.oa-bsa.org/resources/pubs/GOA-2012.pdf
3. The Secret Behind the Order of the Arrow by Lisa Donchak
4. Spokane Baseball http://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/2014/08/31/spokane-baseball-team-promotes-local-tribe-logo-salish-language-156673
5. A book review for The Last Massacre http://www.nytimes.com/1988/01/17/books/the-last-massacre.html
6. Native American Massacres https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indian_massacre#cite_note-196
7.Thoughts on Genocide Against the Native Americans source http://academic.udayton.edu/race/06hrights/georegions/northamerica/unitedstates02.htm
8. Can Foreigners Wear Kimono? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kwoSYWIgV9Y