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Use/Abuse of Native culture in Arrow of Light Ceremony


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#21 Burnside

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Posted 20 February 2008 - 11:30 PM

Glad I asked! Interesting responses, I appreciate the information shared. For the record, I never suspected actual intent to offend; yet given the historical relationship between Native Americans and European Americans, I think it is worth thinking about and maybe even challenging tradition. I have to say that, offense or no offense, I remain perplexed by the desire to cling to the fiction ( Disney, as a couple of people put it). Yes, I grew up with the Cowboys and Indians stuff. But my boys have replaced those fantasies with the likes of Star Wars and I think it would be just as ridiculous to have scouts holding Jedi ceremonies (tho my kids would love it). And as far as suggesting that the Disney style portrayal of real live Native Americans is as harmless as the Geico cave men commercials, well, I don't know where to begin. I beleive that knowlege and understanding of history is invaluable. I would welcome more emphasis on real history in scouting ceremonies and activities, and leave the fiction to the campout skits. Old Grey Eagle has some interesting ideas.
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#22 Gold Winger

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Posted 21 February 2008 - 01:04 AM

What! Cavemen aren't proud of their culture? That's pretty racist if you ask me.
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#23 OldGreyEagle

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Posted 21 February 2008 - 07:38 AM

Hold on there Gold Winger, you might be mistaken, weren't cavemen of the Homo erectus or Homo ergaster variety in which case this wouldnt be racism, rather its specism.
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#24 Gunny2862

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Posted 21 February 2008 - 08:50 AM

And, (sounding out in full and glorious geekdom)(Hear Samuel L. Jackson as Jedi Master Mace Windu) Why, would it be ridiculous to have a Jedi Crossover ceremony?!
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#25 Eagledad

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Posted 21 February 2008 - 09:11 AM

>>I have to say that, offense or no offense, I remain perplexed by the desire to cling to the fiction ( Disney, as a couple of people put it).
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#26 Cheerful Eagle

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Posted 21 February 2008 - 09:44 AM

A couple of thoughts: First off, Akela is the name of the wolf pack leader from R. Kipling's "Jungle Book", thus the use of his name as the cub's authority figure. The role and name of Baloo is also borrowed from that book. The benefit I see from the use of Native American imagery in the AoL ceremony is the way it lifts the event out of the ordinary and mundane. I'm sure if you ask any of the boys, they can tell you that it's all make-believe. But in the moment, they can imagine themselves to be the young hero, being measured and deemed worthy to contimue his quest. And even better, grown-ups who are important to him are participating in the make-believe. As some have already pointed out, there are other traditions and myths that we can pull from to produce this kind of event. But, IMHO, we should be careful to use only those that strongly appeal to the boy's romantic imagination. Because of our popular culture, Native American references appeals strongly to most boys. If you wanted to use Revolutionary War heros (and appealing to military heros has its own pitfalls), I think you'd want to be careful to build an appreciation of that into the program throughout the year. Otherwise, the boys just wouldn't have the internal script to be a part of the make-believe.
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#27 skeptic

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Posted 21 February 2008 - 10:26 AM

Interesting comment Cheerful Eagle:  "If you wanted to use Revolutionary War heros (and appealing to military heros has its own pitfalls), I think you'd want to be careful to build an appreciation of that into the program throughout the year. Otherwise, the boys just wouldn't have the internal script to be a part of the make-believe."      It is unfortunate that you may be right, as there definitely seems to be a really sad lack of knowledge about even basic history or the country among not only the children of today, but their parents. When I was that age, there were many more movies and early TV programs that featured such subjects. Also, a lot of the juvenile literature was fact based historical fiction, and often biographies of early notables in the development of our country. I can remember devouring stories on the building of the Erie and Panama canals, frontier development, revolutionary heroics, and of course the myriad mountain man and sod-buster stories. Even the comics featured these subjects.      On Tuesday evening, I sat on an Eagle board of review for an 18 year old. He wants to be a historian, and his thoughtful answers reflected his having given serious comparative thought to some current issues. It was refreshing, especially when he brought up the idea that "looking back" helps us to avoid similar mistakes. A simple premise for some of us, but one that seems to me to have been forgotten, especially by many of our esteemed leaders and captains of business. JMHO
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#28 Gold Winger

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Posted 21 February 2008 - 01:49 PM

"Why, would it be ridiculous to have a Jedi Crossover ceremony?!" Indians and knights are and were real people with real traditions and ceremonies based on rights of passage. Jedis (really hate to break this to you) are imaginary people thought up by George Lucas and any ceremonies they have were created for making money. We may not be 100% accurate when we represent Indians or knights but we still honor what their cultures represented.
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#29 Burnside

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Posted 21 February 2008 - 03:48 PM

The reason I posted the question on this forum, at the suggestion of a fellow scout who visits the site, was to learn what I did not know about the use of Native references and ceremonys in scouting, because to my own sensibilities it felt uncomfortable. I appreciate many of the informed responses and was very glad to learn of the partnerships between many scouts and their local Native communities. I hope that is the norm, but I don't know if it is or not, and it seems to me that if we are going to incorporate such important references from another culture (particularly one which our early American ancestors worked so hard to destroy), that it is not out of line or self-serving to ask if there are guidelines for such things. Thanks again to those who offered great information. The discussion seems to be breaking down at this point, so I'll say thanks and sign off.
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#30 Herms

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Posted 21 February 2008 - 04:08 PM

I have seen several Boy Scout ceremonies over the years which use a Native American motif, AOL, OA etc... Some very good, some not so good. The intent is not to offend, but to present an example of the simple pride, and respect the early Native American culture had for each other and the earth around them, which was often represented in their dress. Unfortunately, often times the costumes and ceremony are not historically correct, but as a leader do we really have time to put together accurate regalia for one ceremony. We should not worry so much about the presentation, and focus on the meaning of the ceremony, giving boys a sense of pride, history and awareness of the world around them.
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#31 DYB-Mike

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Posted 21 February 2008 - 04:17 PM

I think theres a place for the likes of Star Wars and Harry Potter in Cub Scouts, but only as the subject of a skit, activity, or Pack Meeting theme. Lets face it, the boys love them, it keeps them interested, and some positive influences can be gleaned from much of this current fiction (even SpongeBob extols the virtues of friendship). As for serious ceremonies I agree that we should stick with real people with real traditions. On thing I dont believe Ive read in this thread and the spun thread is that Native American culture is something the United States, and thus the BSA, can call its own as opposed to the English traditions of scouting that weve inherited. That, coupled with its cultural traditions rooted in nature, makes it an ideal source of inspiration for BSA ceremonies and traditions. I also agree with Cheerful Eagle in that we need to be careful about what real traditions and ceremonies we choose to embrace. Gold Winger, amongst others, speaks of the traditions of knights. In my younger days I read everything on King Arthur I could get my hands on. Unfortunately I became disillusioned when I began to read of the atrocities committed by such pillars of Chivalry as Richard the Lion Heart and the Black Prince. Chivalry looks and sounds nice but it was really nothing more than a mode of behavior for the privileged. Common people were slaughtered, enslaved, and otherwise abused. I realize Im judging medieval society through 21st century eyes but the point is that our idealized view of medieval Chivalry and knights is as much a fiction as the Jedi knights of Star Wars. Pirates are another group that popular culture has made warm and fuzzy. I realize nobody is suggesting the BSA adopt pirate ceremonies, but they are heavily used as theme material. Granted the exploits of pirates make interesting reading (and as a New Englander Ive read many a piratical exploit), but basically they were nothing more than murderers and thieves. This is just a personal observation and not a call to ban pirate (or knight) themes, just food for thought. Heck, the Jedi might be fiction but theyre as exciting and better role models than pirates! YIS Mike
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#32 Gunny2862

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Posted 22 February 2008 - 09:17 AM

Thanks DYB-Mike for catching the intended Spirit of my Jedi inspired remark. Sorry you missed it GW. Any of the ceremonies we do are for the boys and are intended to capture the mythic better part of any scenario we place it in. The facts are that any people can have a darker side if one looks deeply enough into the real historical truths about them. We as Scouters trying to inspire the youth are utilizing whatever tradition we place in front of our Scouts for the honorable traits of that tradition. And as such even if we avoid the darker images of any tradition we do well not to mock the tradition in question so that we don't weaken the lesson we want the boys to learn from their encounter with the scenario we draw from the tradition.
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#33 Its Me

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Posted 22 February 2008 - 10:33 AM

I agree that spongeBob Square Pants would make a good scout. He is cheerful, loves camping, the C A M P F I R E S O N G, song attests to that. At Powedhorn we had a Native American group come out and demonstrate and discuss Native American cultures and themes with us. Privately I spoke to the two gentlemen about how I dressed as an Indian at the Webelos Arrow of Light. And I asked how he felt about that. he did not have a problem with that. he suggested that I recreated a Native America Indian in an authentic manner. He went on to advised me to research a particular Indian culture and their attire and to replicate it and be able to tell the kids about why I choose that culture/attire. I thought this to be a reasonable request.
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#34 Eagledad

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Posted 22 February 2008 - 11:25 AM

>> Chivalry looks and sounds nice but it was really nothing more than a mode of behavior for the privileged.
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#35 DYB-Mike

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Posted 22 February 2008 - 11:36 AM

Funny how things are. We are very sensitive to not wanting to unintentionally offend Native Americans by making mistakes in their traditional dress or ceremonies, but yet we have no problem with wrapping a sheet around ourselves, sticking leaves in our hair, grabbing a big cup of wine, and running around shouting toga, toga! As a person of Italian ancestry who is very proud of the contributions of Roman culture to Western Civilization, I should be gravely offended by this mockery of the adult Roman citizen and his formal dress, but Im not and even if I was Im sure people would look at me as some kinda nut. This is not to say that its OK to mock Native American culture its certainly not OK. I can see by the posts that Native Americans themselves are understanding of errors in honest, dignified attempts at presenting representations of their dress and ceremonies. I just wonder why we are so careful with some cultures but much less PC with others. Saint Patricks Day is just around the corner (Im of Irish ancestry as well) and if ever there was a cavalcade of potentially offensive stereotypes you will find them on that day. I cant wait to get my green beer! YIS Mike
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#36 DYB-Mike

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Posted 22 February 2008 - 12:25 PM

Im a bit of a history buff too, Eagledad. Its from my reading of history that I formed my opinion of Chivalry in the context of its time. I had used Cheerful Eagles suggestion that we should be careful in our use of symbols and traditions. In Star Wars Light and Dark are clearly defined and each acts in the way you would expect and our boys know that. To me it was personally troubling to read in real history of knights acting in such an unchivalrous manner as ordering the slaughter of all the inhabitants of a town, men, women, and children, based upon the actions of those few in control of the town. So, to me, to say be chivalrous just like a knight is not enough. I guess what Im saying is that as we pass these traditions and stated virtues of past cultures on to our boys we somehow find a way, in an age appropriate manner, to make them understand that many did not live up to the virtues they supposedly embraced, either because of the narrow mindset of the times or just plain greed and viciousness, and that we hope that they will learn from that and do better and be open minded in perceiving and addressing the wrongs they find around them. So I agree that its great to pass the virtues of Chivalry along, just make sure that the boys understand that courtesy means courtesy to everybody, black or white, rich or poor, etc. Im sure you do that but I just wanted to clarify my point. I also agree with your point about growing. In my opinion the prime objective of studying history is to strive to emulate the best and make every effort not to replicate the worst. Unfortunately that doesnt always seem to happen. And let me say for the record I am not a Star Wars groupie. I havent even seen all the movies, but my kids have kept me very informed about the Star Wars universe. YIS Mike
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#37 OldGreyEagle

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Posted 22 February 2008 - 12:50 PM

So, perhaps it would be better to say Scouting Values are closer to one Don Quixote's view of what a knight errant was. And when you think of it, we are all a little of Don, tilting at windmills, honoring the beautious Dulcinea gadding about the country side in search of the perfect program
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#38 Scouting Mom

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Posted 27 February 2008 - 11:04 AM

A few years ago, we were having a yearly planning meeting. Someone brought up the Order of the Arrow and the AOL ceremony. A new den leader, who happened to be an American Indian (the preferred term to them), objected. She is very sensitive to disrespectful "play-acting" and things of that sort. She was spoiling for a fight. We assured her that the ceremony was done with the approval of American Indian tribes and that it was done in a respectful manner. She was still fuming, but given that this was several months before the event, she agreed to hold off on her objections until she could learn more. She went to her family and consulted with them. Her uncles are among the tribal leaders. Her uncles are also long-time Scouting volunteers. This leader is now the first one to speak up in favor of the OA ceremony and has made it her goal to be accepted into OA.
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#39 cheffy

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Posted 03 March 2008 - 04:14 PM

AS a side note on Native American culture.. On the way back from a campout we were coming up to one of the Native American casinos. The sign on road said "Casino and Museum. We asked if anyne was working on their Indian Lore MB. A couple of the guys still had requiements from Summer camp to finish. Well we stopped at the museum and we were treated like royalty. The person in charge had been a den leader and thought it was great to get the Scouts involved and gave the boys a guided tour and then called the casino manager and had him buy us all lunch. The boys really got something out of the museum. Now we stop everytime we pass to take new boys on a tour. And yes she did mention a cub ceremony for AOL and said nobody she knew had a problem with it,
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#40 CarlaB

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Posted 07 March 2008 - 01:15 PM

Burnside, I think you said it best - "(particularly one which our early American ancestors worked so hard to destroy)" This is one important reason to incorporate their traditions. We have a strong Shoshone and Temok tribes in our town, and from speaking to them they have expressed that they are happy that someone remembers, that we don't dwell on the our people hurt your people, but instead we work on re-building those friendships of some of our ansestors. As long as we stay in contact and ask for their experience and insight we are working on making a better world for our boys. On the other hand, if we go about these ceremonies without knowledgeable people, without requard to local tribes, and without teaching our boys that "Yes, Indians do still exist" it becomes that imaginary world that is Knights in Shining Armor, Pirate good guys, etc. By no means am I saying lecture the boys, but I am saying to involve them in the planning, have local tribes come to pack meetings and tell stories, invite them to your Blue & Gold and Crossover Ceremonies, become friends. I like the comment about Scouts being a great program until the adults get involved. It is sad but typically true. We as adults are there to be positive role-models that is it! We cannot expect our boys to respect a culture if we do not also. And being afraid of offending someone that is part of something that you are not, is not the way to go about it. Communication is the key! Get ahold of those people ask them questions, find out their feeling on it, and share that information with your boy. Our goal should be to teach the boys that responsibility is fun! I am so sick of hearing about our Countries traditions being axed because some uninvolved person felt it was offensive. By no means am I trying to bash you Burnside, I feel you did the right thing, you talked to someone about it, then you talked to more knowledgeable people about it, and from the sounds of your posts your opinion has changed. I wish more people did that.
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