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Use/Abuse of Native culture in Arrow of Light Ceremony


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#1 Burnside

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Posted 19 February 2008 - 09:23 PM

I attended my son's Arrow of Light ceremony and was surprised and somewhat disturbed to see that the ceremony included Boy Scouts dressed up and identified as Akela, Medicine Man etc. Complete with feathers and beating drums, the "Akela" pretended to inspect each arrow (made by machine I'm sure and decorated by parents via a kit) and declare it "worthy" or not. For an organization which requires respectful behavior from the scouts, I am confused and frankly a bit ashamed. I think if I were a Native American, I would be quite offended by this farce. Additionally, after years of our boys visiting museums and police stations and battleships to understand the world around them, why conclude their scouting chapter with such a fictional ceremony ... fictional Akela pretending to inspect store bought arrows etc. These young men do not require such folly, it teaches them nothing of actual Native culture ... which would be interesting for them to learn by the way ... and devalues the sacred symbols of other cultures. Is this condoned by the BSA?
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#2 Bob White

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Posted 19 February 2008 - 09:39 PM

Without actually seeing the ceremony no one can accurately tell you if the ceremony was proper or improper, that is going to be a subjective opinion no matter what. Indian lore has been a part of the BSA program since its beginning. As a youth I was member of an Indian dance team and I am part Indian, (Not a lot but enough to be a owner of a casino in some states), and I have yet to see a ceremony in scouting involving indian lore that I found offensive, As far as does the BSA condone it, there are THOUSANDS of scout units across the country, they are not required to tell the BSA what ceremonies they use. So I am sure the BSA was not in any way knowledgable of that or any other ceremony that took place in the country on that night or any other. The BSA does make ceremonies iedeas available to scout units a few of which include indian lore. I am also pretty sure that an arrow is not a sacred Indian symbol. So while it is obvious that you did not care for the ceremony it is highly possible that nothing really wrong happened. If you are concerned that this is a serious issue then you should share your concerns with the committee chairman or cubmaster. (This message has been edited by Bob White)
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#3 Burnside

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Posted 19 February 2008 - 11:25 PM

I am guessing the arrow is not a sacred symbol too ... but certainly the Medicine Man is. In fact, the Medicine man is considered to be a link between the earth and the spirit ... in many ways a religious figure. It is not so much that I am worried about one particular ceremony (though having been to several Pow Wows, I felt very uncomfortable seeing those boys in Native regalia),my question is are these ceremonies in general just a creative free for all or are there specific rules for how they are to be (or not be) carried out? Does anything go? Are there guidelines? I don't know why the BSA needs to borrow from the Native culture at all, since there are so many interesting and meaningful ways to carry out the business of scouting in its own rite. Doesn't seem very courteous or reverent to me.
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#4 Bob White

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Posted 20 February 2008 - 01:10 AM

Lots of reasons. Think like a child. Weren't you fascinated by Indians, and cowboys, and Knights of the Roundtable, astronauts, lion tamers, and buccaneers. These were pople of adventure and daring and bravery. They were explorers and outdoorsmen and they capture the imagination of kids. Cubbing and even to some degree Boy Scouting use these images to help share the positive attributes in way that draws the interest and attention of the youth.
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#5 Gold Winger

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Posted 20 February 2008 - 02:04 AM

I'm a native American and it doesn't sound as if I'd be offended.
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#6 kbandit

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Posted 20 February 2008 - 05:23 AM

Our scout troop performs the ceremoney(from what was posted) Burnside is referring to and what is found worthy is the scout not the arrow. We have never had a complaint that it was in any way disrespectful to the Indian culture. While the arrow may have been inspected to see the accomplishments of the scout to be deemed worthy of the AOL. Burnside have you looked at an arrow? Each band (color) represents a path(accomplishment) taken in Cub Scouts. Last AOL season our troop did 7 ceremonies some out of our district. This year due to scheduling conficts we will do 3. Did 1 Sat. nite. Were you there?
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#7 Crossramwedge

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Posted 20 February 2008 - 07:42 AM

We do a similiar thing when we have a Crossover ceremony where we present the "Arrow of Light" and have the Webelos crossover to the Boy Scouts. Members of the Order of the Arrow from the Scouts help us with this . It is done very professionally and they perform a Dance Ceremony while being dressed up in Indian Costumes. Yes, they do know what the dances mean and on most occasions they explain what the dances mean before they perform them. By the way we are no longer allowed per Edict by National to refer to the costumes as "Regalia". Do not ask me why. Makes no sense to me. This ceremony has been going on for years around our area and this is the first time I actually have heard anyone object to it. Yes we need to respect the traditions and life style of others. These ceremonies are done with the deepest respect of our Native American friends. I live on the border of Arkansas and Oklahoma. We are very rich in Indian heritage. No one here has raised up one question about these ceremonies. AND YES our Native American friends know that these ceremonies take place. Some of them have sons in scouting. We need to lighten up. If the Scouts/Cubs in the area of your country do not want to use this type of ceremony in their Troop/Den then so be it. But please do not try and dictate to the rest of us how we should conduct our Arrow of Light/Crossover ceremony.
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#8 Hiromi

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Posted 20 February 2008 - 08:12 AM

I found the ceremony when I first witnessed it t be pretty ridiculous. Especially since as Christians of European ancestry we have rituals and symbols that actually hold actual meaning and relevance to our scouts. The romance of Indjuns and Cowboys and Knights and Soldiers is all real for boys, as Bob White alluded to. But I for one do not appreciate the Disney aspect to Cub Scouting. And as many of you know- I have edited our Cub Scouting experience to fit what I believe our COs mission is- The Formation of Christian Men. We replace the imagery of current Cub Scouting with the illustrations from early scouting. We replace the blue and gold uniforms with the Khaki Tans and campaign hats of yester-year. Our ceremonies have a very military and or Roman Catholic bent- all heavy on Chivalry and Service for God. I have had the boys hold vigil in the Chapel and before the Holy presence and pray to be better scouts. We light candles, have our parish priest bless us, have our boats launched with formal blessings, etcetera. When we pray it is always hats off and bent knees. Our meetings often end with lowering the flag slowly while the bugler plays taps. This is all in an attempt to connect the community's culture, faith, and scouting into a single fabric. Boys are capable of a high degree of spiritual intelligence- and sacred symbols, rituals, and actions can be both appreciated by boys and embraced as part of their identity. We dont have to introduce shallow symbols like fake arrows and Halloween-costumed phony Indians when we have available to us Sacred Scripture- and a real historical tradition of Saints, Martyrs, Patriots, and Heroes. Instead of fake Indjun Chief, how about Charles the Hammer- who fended of the Islamic Horde from its attempt at invading Europe through Spain. Instead of Baloo the Bear, how about American Patriots like Patrick Henry or Paul Revere (who was the model of preparedness) or Colonel Henry Knox, the young Boston bookseller who had led a small group of men on a 300-mile journey from Boston to Fort Ticonderoga in New York State. Once there, the party disassembled cannon taken when the British surrendered the fort and retreated to Canada in May 1775. In less than two months time, Knox and his men moved 60 tons of artillery across lakes and rivers, through ice and snow to Boston. On March 7th, 2,000 Continental soldiers maneuvered the guns to a hill overlooking the city. The British had no choice but to evacuate Boston. Colonel Knox is the model of resourcefulness and American know-how). We Americans all have various treasures of Tradition and History and truth- why the phony non-sense? Pappy
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#9 Bob White

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Posted 20 February 2008 - 08:40 AM

This is where knowledge of early Scouting comes in handy, not to be able to recreate it but to separate fact from fiction. Early cub scouts did not wear the Boy Scout uniform. Cub Scouting began in 1930 with a blue uniform not much different in overall looks than todays uniform. Early cub scouting was heavily based on Indian lore. In fact the original story of Akela was that he was a young indian boy, son of Chief Arrow of Light. As an infant being carried by his mother they were attacked while gathering firewood by three indians from a rival tribe. His mother was killed and Akela was left to wander the woods alone where he was taken in and raised by wolves, etc etc. As a Cub in the 60s the American Indian was not made fun of in ceremonies, they were revered for ther skills, their understanding of bnature, and their bravery, just as they are in todays ceremonies. The same is true by the way are our founding fathers. You will find far more patriotic themed ceremonies in the "Staging Ceremonies for Dens and Packs", than you will find Indian themed ceremonies. So you see Pappy your return to the "origins" of Cubbing is going back to elements that did not exist and ignores the ones that did. You are far less a traditionalist than you are a historical revisionist.
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#10 ScoutNut

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Posted 20 February 2008 - 08:53 AM

I do not think that BSA has had complaints from any of the Indian Nations about their use of Indian lore. As a matter of fact, I have heard of all Native American Dance Teams. I believe we had a Native American poster here whose son could not wait to become a member of a team and do dance ceremonies. As for the use of fictional characters, Cub Scouts is all about fictional characters. Baden Powell knew Rudyard Kipling personally and loved his works, including "The Jungle Book". BP included excerpts from Kipling's stories in his Scouting handbooks. That is why Baloo, Kim's Game, and Akela are an integral part of Scouting today. Indian lore is entwined with many aspects of BSA. BSA was started using Native American teachings. There are merit badges on American Cultures and Indian Lore. There are Dance Ceremony Teams. There is the Order of the Arrow. I doubt that you will ever see BSA eliminate all uses of Indian lore in it's programs.
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#11 scoutingagain

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Posted 20 February 2008 - 09:09 AM

Welcome Burnside. Your observations and opinions are welcome here. I don't know how long you've been involved with scouting but I hope you stick around to learn more about the program and it's history and traditions. As BW notes scouting has had a long association with Native American culture and lore. In our District there is a Native American ceremonies team that is available to units to assist in the type of ceremony you describe run by the local Order of the Arrow Lodge. They go out of their way to make the dances and ceremonies as respectful and authentic as they can. They consult regularly with local Native American tribes and leaders. Their intent to to make their ceremonies and dances authentic to the tribes of their local area. I believe many districts and councils have similar groups making similar efforts. I would hope these efforts are recieved with the respect and solemness they are intended to portray. SA
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#12 OldGreyEagle

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Posted 20 February 2008 - 09:17 AM

I think having Charles the Hammer as a Cub Scout Icon is a great idea, it may not play well in mostly muslim communities Modeling the behavior of Saints and Martyrs could get some traction unless the Pack is mostly Jewish in which case I think the impact would be diminished. Way back in the mid 60's when I was the first boy in my class to know the latin responses, I got to be the first of my class to serve Mass. Of course, it was 6:30am mass and I had to walk to church and back home just to walk back when it was time for school and attend mas and watch Tom, the second boy in our class to learn his latin serve and be fawned over as he was the "first" of our class to be seen serving but I digress. I remember being a member of "The Knights of the Altar", the Altar boy society. We got one picnic a year while school was in session and a trip to Comiskey Park, the old Comiskey Park at that, with Ron Hansen playing third and Tommy Macraw at second. Perhaps a Knights of the Altar Chapter would do well at your school Pappy. As Altar servers can now be female, the program can be coed as well. Perhaps a group called the "Sons of Liberty" would be a great idea to teach the history of the nation. A funny aside, in the community where I live there is high school called "Liberty High School", we had a patrol composd of scouts who went to that High School who has as their patrol name, "The Sons of Liberty". They did quite well in Camporees and Klondikes for a few years taking 2nds and Firsts. I think introducing Living History is a great idea. You could have a Venturing Crew with renacting History as its focus, it would be great
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#13 Gunny2862

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Posted 20 February 2008 - 09:32 AM

Welcome also Burnside, While I identify as a Caucasian, I also have enough close enough ancestry to register as an American Indian. My brother sat on our Regional (not BSA) Council for a time. I think BSA has the right idea, they are trying to recognize the accomplishments of the American Indian and to promote its emulation, not to mock it as some other entities do. The elements of the ceremony do have meaning and short of bringing in tribal elders to help with the creation of authentic regalia and checking ancestry to decide which boys can participate in a ceremony - and possibly then excluding any boy who couldn't show an ancestry link and then also excluding non-natives from attending, carrying the argument to its logical conclusion. What we'd have is the Indian Scouts of America. I'm not having any issues with the Arrow of Light Ceremonies as long as they are carried off in a dignified fashion and not as a comedic sketch.
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#14 fgoodwin

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Posted 20 February 2008 - 09:35 AM

Burnside, welcome to the Forums. Are you familiar with OA (Order of the Arrow)? It sounds like the dance team from your local OA chapter performed the AOL ceremony for your son's pack. Speaking as an Arrowman myself, I think I can safely say most, if not all Arrowmen (and certainly dance team members), have the greatest respect for Native American culture and traditions, and would not knowingly do anything to offend Native Americans. If you found the ceremony offensive, I suggest you visit with the OA chapter chief & chapter advisor to share your concerns. Good luck.
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#15 troutmaster

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Posted 20 February 2008 - 12:24 PM

Not noted yet is the world renowned Koshare post/crew from La Junta, Colorado. These scouts are recognized by BSA and Native Americans for their authenticity and skill in portraying Native American ceremonies. The founder was honored more than once by Native American tribes for his dedication to the truth and solemnity of the dances and ceremonies. Here is a link if you care to look. http://www.koshare.org/dancers/
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#16 Gold Winger

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Posted 20 February 2008 - 12:48 PM

They have quite the nice faclility there with an impressive display of Eagles over the years. The current governor of Colorado is an Eagle from that troop.
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#17 Beavah

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Posted 20 February 2008 - 04:38 PM

Welcome, Burnside. I hear what you're sayin', eh? There are indeed some crews and OA chapters (Koshare bein' the preeminent) that do a respectful job at portraying Native American tradition and dance. But the average unit or district who puts on an AOL show with boys dressed in pseudo-indian garb is really workin' off the old white man's odd view of the "noble savages" or whatnot. It tends to be a caricature or "Disney cartoon" version of Indians as Pappy pointed out. I can see where that would be uncomfortable. Rest assured going forward into Boy Scouts the cartoon and caricature elements go away for the most part, so you can think of this as a one-time oddity perhaps. I'd encourage yeh to share your thoughts with the pack committee and CO, though. Sometimes these "traditions" continue (and get more odd) until someone speaks up. Beavah
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#18 Gold Winger

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Posted 20 February 2008 - 06:32 PM

". It tends to be a caricature or "Disney cartoon" version of Indians " So what? So are the grade school re-enactments of the first thanksgiving. So are the Geico caveman commercials.
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#19 frank10

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Posted 20 February 2008 - 07:19 PM

Burnside, Welcome to the fire! Funny, on Saint Patrick's day no one cares how you dress or what shade of green you wear.
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#20 Eamonn

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Posted 20 February 2008 - 07:26 PM

No way am I guilty!! Cub Scouting and the real Jungle Book,not the Disney movie, did hail from my side of the pond. But the number of times I have been asked "Do you have Thanksgiving in England?" is almost countless. My normal reply is "No, we didn't have the Native American Indians, but Englishmen were the first to celebrate it!" Ea.
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