E. Umer Goodman and Carroll A. Edson were fascinated by Lenape culture. So in 1915 the two men modeled a secret society, designed to follow the Boy Scouts, called the Order of the Arrow.
Edson and Goodman created the order as secret society complete with secret handshakes and passwords. According to the Order, “The use of American Indian clothing and symbols have been a component of Order of the Arrow programming since its inception.”
Today, the Order of the Arrow is a well-established society with a vast amount of online groups and accounts on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and online. There are over 300 membership lodges in regions across the country and an approximate 160,000 current members and over one million have been members throughout its existence according to their website at oa-bsa.org.
Historically, the Order of the Arrow is a society embraced by non-Indigenous leaders and politicians as is demonstrated in the Associated Press image above, in which President Franklin D. Roosevelt wears a Native American war bonnet when he was inducted into the National Scout Order of the Arrow, a "brotherhood of service," on Aug. 23, 1933. He received a miniature tepee as a gift from scout Robert Scott of Queens, N.Y., at Ten Mile River Camp, N.Y.
The Order of the Arrow YouTube Channel currently has 2.1K subscribers and a plethora of videos showcasing activities of its members.
Though the video thumbnails do not appear to showcase the wearing of “regalia” at first glance, there are a few videos including a “NESA NOAC show” showing members in Native “regalia” in various stages of dancing.
The Tribune Ripple YouTube channel, however, posted a filmed an Order of the Arrow ceremony in which various members wear long headdresses with their faces are covered in face paint, they arrange themselves in a series of Native stereotypical and ceremonial poses and a group of members leads scouts in dancing while playing a “Native-style” drum.
Boy Scouts Order Of The Arrow 2017
Dancers at Camp Raven Knob Order of the Arrow
The two videos posted by the Tribune are far from rare, as a simple YouTube search of “Order of the Arrow” or “Order of the Arrow ceremony” reveal hundreds of videos in which Boy Scouts or members of the order are dressed in culturally appropriating “Native-themed” clothing.
An end to appropriation?
According to longtime Order of the Arrow blogger Bobwhite Blather, in January of 2019, the Order of the Arrow issued a statement that they would no longer permit the wearing of Native-themed “regalia” during scout crossover ceremonies.
Though this change was reportedly in place, it looks as if the announcement was adjusted. According to an updated post dated July 8, 2019, titled Order of the Arrow Updates.
The order claims it will still "honor Native American traditions by continuing to use American Indian “regalia” in its ceremonies, but policies as to when such regalia can be used are being strengthened and reviewed to ensure respectful treatment. And as female members may be participating in ceremony teams, new guidelines are being published."
Additionally, the Order of the Arrow’s website membership and related policies page contends that though facepaint and wigs are offensive to tribes, the “Basic Policy” is as follows:
“The use of American Indian clothing and symbols have been a component of Order of the Arrow programming since its inception. While not stated explicitly, the underlying policy in the use of such clothing and symbols remains: "American Indian clothing and other regalia used in OA ceremonies and programs must be respectful of the American Indian cultures we are emulating.”
Though the Order of the Arrow stated members should not wear Native regalia in ceremony, there are still posts on social media showing otherwise. Several Facebook posts by Order of the Arrow page accounts occur well after the reported January 2019 announcement.
Additionally, a printable, downloadable guideline for the Order of the Arrow American Indian Activities Guidelines details about how to create “Native-style” dance regalia such as the fancy dance shawl, leggings and moccasins and more.
Among the approximate 300 membership lodges that exist across the country there are a considerable amount of these accounts on Twitter to include the following accounts:
The Konepaka Ketiwa 38 @Konepaka, whose page shows a group of boys in “regalia” around a campfire.
The @tejaslodge of the East Texas Area Council, the @Chicksa202 Yocona Area Council, the @oane3a who states “Our borders include councils with headquarters in Buffalo to Syracuse and Horseheads in Western NYS. The Section NE-3A name is Ho-De-No-Sau-Nee-Ga.”
@KlahicanLodge which has served Cape Fear since 1946. @Lowanne_Nimat which serves the Longhouse Council in Upstate NY. @Atchafalaya563 in their 46th year of Service to the Evangeline Area Council. The @nanuk_lodge355 which has been serving the Great Alaska Council since 1947, @wagionlodge6 in Westmoreland, @tahosalodge in Denver, @ajapeu2 in Washington Crossing @SectionNE6B in Central Pennsylvania and parts of Maryland, @oa307, the South Texas Tutelo Lodge 161 @TuteloLodge in the Blue Ridge Mountains and many more - as stated, and according to its website, there are over 300 lodges.
Similar to the presence of The Order of the Arrow on Twitter, the organization has a formidable presence on Facebook with such accounts as The Order of the arrow Facebook page and other lodges such as Section SR-9, Order of the Arrow, Atchafalaya Lodge, the Madockawanda Lodge and countless others.
Thought the Order of the Arrow has publicly stated the discontinuation of Native “regalia” in crossover ceremonies, recent photos dictate otherwise.
A Lenni Lenape elder speaks out
Several references on the Order of the Arrow’s website, as well as downloadable new member guidelines, state that the original founders including Ernest Thompson Seton modeled the Order of the Arrow after local Lenni Lenape or Delaware Indian traditions.
Lenni Lenape elder and tribal pastor John Norwood responded to Indian Country Today in an email, that his view on the Order of the Arrow’s adherence to said traditions and practices are plainly “not authentic.”
“It is my understanding that the original ‘lore and ceremony’ of the Boy Scouts of America, Order of the Arrow was allegedly based upon what was claimed to be Lenape culture, although I am uncertain as to whether that remains true, Norwood wrote in an email.
The order was “based upon a version of the old Northern Unami dialect of Lenape, called ‘Mission Lenape,’ which was probably gleaned from Moravian missionary documents going back to the 18th and early 19th centuries.
“The BSA/OA's use of Native dress and ceremony originated around the time that other non-Native organizations adopted Native dress, lore, and ceremony for their usage, ironically during a period in history when many Natives were discouraged from embracing our own tribal culture and identity and when government and social forces sought to terminate tribes. Often such groups with a history of using Native dress, lore, and ceremonies will claim that permission was granted by some “Indian” at some point in the past. Whether or not this is true is immaterial. No single individual tribal person has the authority to place the cultural knowledge and property rights of a tribal nation into the public domain.”
Norwood said that no matter the intentions, the wearing of Native dress by non-Native people is appropriation.
"While I respect each tribe’s right to its own perspective on the issue, I believe that no matter the sincerity of the participants, the use of Native dress and ceremonies (even when accurately portrayed) by non-Natives is a misappropriation of our culture. I appreciate the effort to consult with area tribes, as expressed in the OA manual. However, this should be done in order to gain an understanding of, and appreciation for, regional tribal heritage, not in order to mimic it."
"The problem with gaining permission to use tribal dress and ceremony from regional tribes is that the history of the United States includes the disruption and displacement of tribes to the extent that a region may not contain all of its original indigenous tribes, which would still have a claim to the cultural heritage being appropriated. Moreover, even if one generation of an authentic tribe granted such permission, another generation would still have the right to withdraw such permission. Also, there are some non-historic cultural enthusiast groups that illegitimately claim tribal identity and authority, which would fraudulently grant such permission to those seeking their blessing to “play Indian.”
Norwood says using a drum for "Native" song created by non-Native people is also appropriating culture.
"The songs and ceremonies and regalia of our people belong to our people. They represent a heritage that has passed from one generation to the next during centuries of persecution. Some elements of regalia or songs or ceremonies are particular to a clan or family or society within a tribe and require some personal achievement and/or special permission in order to gain the right of use, even for tribal people."
Norwood also referred back to the Voice of Scouting article in Indian Country Today's previous article and called the justifications "laughable."
"The Voice of Scouting states that ”The purpose of Indian lore within the Boy Scouts is not to be like Native Americans, but to enjoy some of their crafts, games, ceremonies, and culture.” This is laughable when the same page depicts scouts wearing war bonnets and powwow dance costumes. I use the term “costume” in this case because that is what is worn when a person portrays what they are not, while “regalia” is worn as an expression of who a person is. Additionally, our ceremonies are not for public enjoyment, and to claim so is to demonstrate an abysmal lack of understanding as to their nature.
Response from a former member of the order
Frank Maynard, a unit commissioner of the Mighty Ottawa district told Indian Country Today in an email that he felt such instances of emulating Native culture create understanding and appreciation. He did say that he was not aware of any groups reaching out to tribes for guidance.
“My personal thoughts are that when the Order of the Arrow ceremonies, customs, and traditions are carried out properly, they can help to instill in the Scouts participating an appreciation and greater understanding of Native American peoples and culture. For those deeply involved in the OA, I believe this to be the case. Through the use of appropriate, correct Native-themed regalia, these aims can be carried out,” wrote Maynard.
Norwood says the desire to incorporate American Indian culture into activities is a good thing, but he says "the manner in which it is appropriated is the issue. People may argue that this is not the case for other ethnic groups in the “melting pot” that is America, so it should not be for ours either. However, American Indians are different; ours are the only indigenous cultures whose integrity is threatened when misappropriated, because – unlike all the immigrant cultures after us - this is their place of origin."
Maynard concluded, “I enjoy the opportunity to learn more about people of different cultures other than the "typical American." I live in a community that is increasingly Asian and sub-continental and to see the cultural explosion around us in the last quarter-century has, to me, been fascinating, educational and enjoyable. Personally, I feel that the use of Native American tribal names should only be used if that particular tribe (or its descendants) gives its approval and would consider it an honor.”
“The OA understands the influence that Indigenous cultures have within the Order, as both exemplify respect for the natural world and those around us.”
A non-Native Boy Scout speaks out about the Order of the Arrow induction process
Rob (last name withheld to maintain his privacy) told Indian Country Today he was disturbed by the Order of the Arrow crossover ceremony so much that he decided to abstain from participating. He was active in the Scouts for 25 years as a cub scout, Webelo and Boy Scout.
He told Indian Country Today, “The first prominent item that stands out in my mind when thinking of the Boy Scouts and the appropriation of Indigenous culture is the cover of this 1948 Handbook For Boys.
“As I look at the older books that I have from the late 1970s, I see multiple displays of what I will call blatant ridiculousness. Though, I will say that that “information” which I will use loosely as a term, was not entered into the more recent Cub Scout, Webelos or Boy Scout books. Though what I feared by seeing its removal from those books, became truth when I saw the Indian Lore merit badge book and also the Order of the Arrow handbook. In Webelos, you have the “Arrow of Light” badge which is the highest badge in Cub Scouts, is the required entry badge needed to move from Cub Scouts to Boy Scouts. It is an item marked specifically by the Boy Scouts as being derived from an image in Indigenous culture.”
Rob then told the story of his recruitment into the Order of the Arrow. He described how once a year the Order of the Arrow has their recruiting process and Order of the Arrow members travel and visit each scout troop during weekly meetings.
“Troop meetings are generally held in large halls or function spaces. Before the Order of the Arrow enter the space, the troop leader has the Scouts form a large circle and the lights are turned out except for one to light up the circle. The Order of the Arrow enters and you hear the stomping of feet and clanging of tiny cymbals every time a foot hits the floor; as the cymbals are attached to the legs. They “dance” their way into the circle. Most are bare-chested and barefooted having some form of “costume” headpiece with feathers, hide leggings and sometimes some have paint on their faces.”
“One member carries a block of wood with a feather stuck in it and he sets the block with a feather in the center of the circle. Then the members “dance” around this feather and each takes turns attempting some sort of “acrobatic maneuver” to bring themselves over the feather and try to pluck the feather from the holder with their mouths. After a short time one of them plucks out the feather and the “show” is over,” explained Rob.
Rob also explained that the scouts told very little about the Order of the Arrow other than it is a great honor to be inducted.
“This is and has always been something that has perturbed me about the Order of the Arrow It’s like the “what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas” mentality. Unless you are in the Order of the Arrow you don’t know what goes on in the Order of the Arrow It was always very elitist and secret, secret. I just didn’t get and still don’t get why the Boy Scouts have to have some B.S. fraternity.”
“They then tell the troop members who in the troop is eligible to be voted for, for induction. There are certain criteria which must be met as in being above a certain rank and have ‘X’ number of nights camping and so on. Then the troop is told that the elections are not a popularity contest that you are not to vote for your friends, you should be voting for the person that you feel exemplifies what being a Boy Scout means. After the vote is over the Order of the Arrow takes the ballots and tallies them up and then leaves the meeting saying that the results will be apparent at the Camporee ‘Tapping Out’ ceremony,” said Rob.
The induction ceremony
Once the potential members are voted for and selected Rob explained the induction process usually starts on a Friday evening and ends on a Sunday afternoon. The Order of the Arrow members, wearing various levels of Native dress, headdresses and face paint, conduct the ceremony.
“On Saturday evening there is normally a huge bonfire. During the Order of the Arrow Induction Camporees, the Order of the Arrow members are in charge of the proceedings. At the bonfire lighting, the Order of the Arrow members, two of them carrying torches with others following behind, enter the area with drumming in the background and cymbals clanging every time their feet hit the ground in unison with the drumbeat. They ‘dance’” around the unlit bonfire a bit and then the drumming stops and the two with the torches walk to the tower of logs and light it off.
There is an opening to the fire with recitations of the scout oath and law and then maybe a song sung by everyone and each troop is required to do some type of performance or skit in front of everyone.
Then towards the end when the firelight has died down, the Order of the Arrow takes back over and begins the “Tapping Out” ceremony. The ceremony consists of a few “sacred” words spoken and then Order of the Arrow members walking up and mingling into the crowd of seated scouts to find all of the people who were voted in by the troops. Upon finding these “candidates” they stand behind them and wait until the okay is given to “tap” the shoulder of the “candidate” at which time they stand and then walk with the Order of the Arrow member to the front of the crowd of onlooking scouts. At that point, each Order of the Arrow member standing behind the corresponding scout, removes said scout’s Boy Scout neckerchief and slide and replaces them with an Order of the Arrow neckerchief and slide. Then it’s over and everyone is told to leave except for the “candidates” who must stay to receive information about the Order of the Arrow Ordeal weekend, which is when the Order of the Arrow seal your induction by having a weekend camping trip with the Order of the Arrow which unfortunately I know nothing about because I never took part in one because like I said above, unless you are in the Order of the Arrow then you don’t know what goes on in the Order of the Arrow.
ORDER of the ARROW Tap Out CAMP JOSEPHO (1944)
I will say that at 17 I was voted into the Order of the Arrow, but I never went through with it. Not necessarily because I didn’t want to but because being picked on and bullied back then, I was basically terrified of being brought up in front of a large crowd and put on display.
Looking back now, I am happy I didn’t go through with it, that I am not included among them. I feel myself, insulted and disgusted by what I saw and now also feel embarrassed, because of “all” of it.
Stay tuned for the full list of source materials and research links following the last of five articles.
Indian Country Today reached out to a considerable number of sources connected to the Boy Scouts, including troop leaders, upper administration, media relations and more. None of Indian Country Today’s requests for comments were answered aside from one - listed and cited above.
Stories in the Boy Scout article series by Indian Country Today associate editor Vincent Schilling