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Order of the Arrow and Native Americans

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I realize that I am opening a can of worms with this topic but I don't think this subject has been touched upon in these forums.


(I am a Brotherhood member since the early 1990s and I have a deep personal connection to the Order of the Arrow.)


That being said, some of my friends/aquaintances have asked me, in some form or fashion, how I justify the use Native American customs and images by the BSA.


So have any of you been asked similar questions regarding the OA and its emphasis on Native American heritage?


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Oh brother have I had this conversation, especially since I am a dancer.


The topic depends on a bunch of factors: local NA population, how the local lodge interacts and behaves,what is actually being done, etc.


I lucked out in that my original lodge Chilantakoba Lodge 397 had a good relationship with the largest local nation: The Houma. But it helps when Arrowman developed a realtionship with them, to the point that they helped restore traditional skills that had been "lost," helped prepare documents and research for their petition for Federal recognition, helped promote their cause for federal recognition via handing out info at every possible event, i.e. conclaves and NOACs, etc.


But a few idiots can undue that good will. 397 had a dance team that wanted to do things "their way" until the lodge disbanded them at the request of the Houma if memory serves. However a few years after being disbanded, they did help restart the dancers.


Now the following is my opinion based upon research, discussions, and reading. The situation above, i.e. OA members doing their own thing, is why many in the NA community do not like the OA. NA cultures are varied, although they are becoming more and more alike since the 1960s and "Pan Indianism" and the "powwow circuit." The cultures are alive and well, and continue to grow and change. However many in the OA still think either "Wild Wild West", or if they are adult dancers who haven't continued dancing in some time, the 1960s and 70s when some dance styles were more prevelent. Perfectly good example between 1993 and 2007, the years I danced a lot, I had only seen 1 Old Style dancer who wasn't an Arrowman. And he only danced in his Old Style regalia b/c A) I was talking to him about it and B) he hadn't worn it in so long that he decided if it still fit, he'd wear that day.


Anyway I digressed from the original topic. How to justify.


Gotta remember history, when the OA was founded in 1915 all Native Americans were not citizens yet, that happened in 1924, they could not vote in every state(1948 solved that) and that certain aspect of NA culture were prohibited by law. Native Americans either went underground, or became fully aculturated. For example, the Navajo celebrated parts of their culture underground to avoid detection, while the Houma fully the Cajun culture of their swamp neighbors (true story, Houma lost a good bit of their language which is suspected to be similar to Choctaw, and instead speak French. One of the books in my collection that was written by one of their tribal council members is written in both French and English).


So the OA's early adoption of NA culture was not a problem. In fact many in the NA community saw it as a way of continuing their culture during a time of oppression. That's one reason why Swanton was successful in his research IMHO, and many of the early NA craft books were either written by Native Americans with the OA as their intended audience, or by Arrowman who had developed deep relationships with various NA communities.


OK gotta get back to work, and I can literally spend all day ont his topic.


Rememebr this: RESPECT AND RESEARCH. When approaching folks have RESPECT when goign to them, doing regalia and Dancedo the REsearch to do it right.


More later

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  • 4 months later...

I'm with all those who strongly object to "playing Indian."


It's worth noting:


(a) many OA lodges develop good relationships;

(b) Native Americans are individuals, too, and differ in how they individually, and as a tribe, can perceive things. And their views can change over time as well.

© The OA can strongly contribute toward raising sympathy and knowledge about American Indian culture: prior to the OA, my schooling taught me next to nothing about the culture: the OA can be an exceptionally helpful educational structure. . . so boys can know the real history.

(d) I recently attended a Pow Wow and found little tribal variations, everyone from various tribes doing the same dances and dressed in modern fashion. Do Native Americans themselves know their tribal cultures?

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Mr. B.


Long story short the modern Powwow is more "pan Indian" than tribal specific. It's my understanding that the modern powwow descended from the various Wild West shows, and really took off after WWII when folks would visit their buddies for different local powwows and society dances, and then brought them home so to speak. Although I'm willing to bet you see few to none Southern Straight dancers at Northern powwows that are done by tribes that have a history with Northern Taditional and vice versa.


Usually you can spot tribal differences if you know what to look for,i.e. certain designs, patterns, and colors in the regalia.


Now for their are private events that do occur that you have to be invited to attend,i.e. a Ponca Hethuska Society dance. These private events are cultural specific.


But some have lost elements of their culture, or their culture has morphed. One example is language. I know the Eastern Band of the Cherokee teach Tslagi in their schools, and if memory serves, have the street names written in the language as well. The Lakota are trying to preserve the language, and one thing they are doing si using the game SCRABBLE to teach it to the younger generation. But some have lost the language. I know the Houma speak French instead of their original language.

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Hello All,


First, I have to second Eagle 92s comments re remembering what was going on re NA history in the 1920s in our neighboring state of ME for example (and in the Maritimes), dancing and music amongst the Mikmaq went underground and did not emerge until about the late 1960s and even then it was done with some trepidation for quite a while not so much repression from the government as from the Church; NA music and dances were still frowned upon in Nova Scotia by the RC Church as late as the early 1970s! I was also told by a Passamaquoddy woman I spoke with in the late 1990s that speaking a Native language outside a reservation was still against the law in the state of ME!! Though I doubt its a law thats been enforced much since the early 1900s, Im not sure its ever been removed from the books. It is possible that the early days of the OA actually helped in preserving some of NA culture.


There are indeed the pan-Indian style powwows in this area, but powwow style music and dance is relatively new here to northern New England. Virtually nothing done at them (with the exception of some of the regalia worn) is/was traditional to this area!


There is however, a strong local tradition which still continues. This style of song and dance is very different to what most people are used to at powwows there are no high notes in the songs (the falsetto type voice one usually associates with powwow style songs), and the drum is not always the instrument of choice in this neck of the woods, the rattle and shaker are more commonly used for dance; the drum is used, but not nearly as frequently.


One of the things that is unique to our Drum & Dance Team (as well as Ceremonies Team I am the adult advisor for both) is that we do not do powwow style songs or dancing at all; we are committed to keeping it local, and its something we are proud to do (as far as I know, the only Chapter in our Lodge that does so). So, people are a little surprised not to see the full blown ginormous headdresses, bustles, ankle bells all the typical things one associates with Indian dancing they were never done here, hence we dont do it.


True, the songs and regalia may not be as showy as with the powwow tradition (as mentioned, we do not wear ankle bells for example simply because they were never traditionally worn here; they came in with the powwow scene), but these are the songs and dances people have been doing in this area since forever!


The city I live in was not founded by English Puritans/settlers (though they did indeed settle here), it was inhabited for about 10,000 years before any European knew it existed and this is what was/is done by these people and thats the feeling I like to try and convey in our performances and ceremonies; i.e. theyve been doing it like this here forever.


Being a Linguist and familiar with the local languages, I make a huge effort to incorporate them into our Ceremonies, particularly my home states original language when the Shaman/Medicine Man begins to tell his story in our Webelos AOL-Crossover Ceremony, he begins the story in Abenaki and then switches to English. At the beginning of the same Ceremony, no English is used the feeling Im trying to convey to the audience is that youre the visitor here to this culture and its been here for an extremely long time (and you just might feel a little out of place and thats the way it should be). I think it ads an extra dimension to the Ceremonies, almost sort of a Verfremdungseffekt in a way, where youre the outsider, so to speak, and get instantly immersed in a culture that you probably only know from stereotypes.


I want the audience to feel like they have just been plopped down in a local NA community as much as I possibly can though in our case, with the regalia we wear, said community would be from about 1750.


BTW absolutely nothing wrong with the powwow style or traditions! So long as whats presented is well researched and done correctly and with respect.


To that end, I have found that many local elders are more than happy to assist and instruct you about local songs and dances, you just have to ask nicely and remember a word of thanks no matter what they are able to provide (or not) ;)


As an aside, being familiar with Lnape, I have to cringe when I hear Lnape OA terms/words pronounced I wish there was some way/means/method of teaching the correct pronunciation and even meanings of what people are saying (my pet peeve is Vigil Names a virtual how to of butchering a language), but thats a completely different story/direction 


Though I do have Penobscot ancestry (one on my ancestors was even a well known sagamore theres a Lodge in ME named for him), you have to go back about 300 years to get to it, so I do not consider myself NA per se, but I am aware that it is a part of my ethnic background and as such I strive to try and get it right to the point at times of perhaps being kind of anal about it (i.e. if it was never traditionally done here, dont expect to see us doing it, singing it, or wearing it!) but I think thats the idea; if youre going to portray a culture and its customs, at least make an effort!


I dont have any problem portraying a different culture, so long as its done right its done all the time with other ethnic cultures - imagine taking a trip to southern Germany and seeing firsthand authentic Bavarian folkdances and traditional dress and then take a look at some of the god-awful stereotypes you see at your local Oktoberfests here and you get what I mean about trying to avoid the stereotypes and doing it right (and before anyone say it yes, there are groups here that do a phenomenal job of authentic Bavarian folk dancing, but most I have seen have no clue). How many cloggers out there are actually of English descent or how many step dancers of Irish descent?


So, just my 2 kopeks worth bottom line is that I guess I sort of justify it by trying to immerse a spectator and introduce him/her to an as accurate portrayal of a culture that has existed in their own back yard for thousands of years (and to try and do my part in blowing away the stereotypes).



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Of course, along with the above, particularly with D&D Presentations, it's not just getting it right but also being able to explain to your audience WHY it is that things are done this way - be able to answer typical questions like why do you just dance clockwise?, why do you wear such and such a thing, why are your legings not fringed, etc., etc. be familiar with the REASONS things are done not just that fact that that's just the way they're done!

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  • 1 month later...

Some thoughts:


(1) It's interesting how quickly white European culture was also taken in by native tribes; consider all the European-derived stuff in what's typically considered native regalia; cultural intercourse takes place in two directions.


(2) The BSA has a Native American advisory committee; they know about the OA.


(3) In my personal experience, the OA has taught me REAL native American history, far more and far more intensive (the bad as well as the good) than I was taught in school. Is this not a good thing? If I were a native American Indian, I'd be glad to get the story out.


(4) It all varies. Some tribes and some organizations and some individuals can get touchy; others are glad for genuine interest and support.


(5) There ARE aspects of native American life worthy of anyone's respect and admiration. Just as there are admirable aspects of African, Asian, European culture.

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Personally, if Indians feel entitled to "act white" and engage in cultural rituals pioneered (pardon that expression) by white America, such as obtaining care from doctors and hospitals, working for wages and attending school, they are barking up the wrong tree by trying to prevent whites from "playing Indian" if they wish to do so.


Ditto for African Americans who objected to white vocalists who "covered" songs popularized by African American singers. Jimmie Hendrix "covering" the Star Spangled Banner is an example of how cultures adapt to such things.


Foods are another example. Italians who complain about American interpretations of Italian food and Mexican Americans distraught about American tacos ----same deal.


Popular culture in the United States takes in whatever raw material it can find and often adapts it to new purposes using new methods. That's OUR culture!


To those who don't like it ----tough.

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"justify the use Native American customs and images by the BSA?"


"Justify" it to whom?


At a Renaissance Festival, must we justify our use of Renaissance European customs and symbols? Must those of non-European descent seek the approval of people of European descent? Or do we assume people are adults... and just go ahead and have fun with our Renaissance Festival... with no worries over whether or not some crackpot infantile European racist is going to complain that we're treading in his exclusive cultural territory or that we're not showing proper respect to European traditions?


Let's not infantilize people because of their race. Just because the cultures of Pre-Columbian North America were inferior to the Western culture that displaced and replaced them.... does NOT mean that the descendents of people who practiced those cultures are inferior human beings. They can handle life's and history's vicissitudes the same as we and our ancestors have. Who among us does not have stone-age ancestors who lived a primitive tribal culture? Who among us does not have ancestors that were done wrong by some other group? Who among us does not have ancestors whose culture has long since been replaced by the culture we live in today? You don't help people get over it by humoring or encouraging the notion that they shouldn't.


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Please - surely anyone can see that the SP post above does NOT make the the claim that seeking modern health care is a "white" thing.


That SP post articulates that claim in ironic fashion in order to illustrate its absurdity and the general absurdity of anyone claiming that their race or lineage gives them special authority over how others adopt or adapt cultural practices.

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"Justify" it to whom?


I don't think the OP was suggesting there was the NA police out there. Really, the only folks we need to justify our actions to is ourselves. There's no outside entity obliging us respect or disrespect any other group. That said, the way we imitate NA culture should reflect our ideals.


Is it ...


Trustworthy: Do the dances reflect the character of the tribe or tribes who might witness a ceremony? Does it give non-NAs a fair vision of NA culture?

Loyal: Are we being faithful to the people whose ancestors walked this land long before us?

Helpful: Are we assisting the tribes who need our assistance?

Friendly: Are we building and maintaining ongoing relationships with tribal leaders?

Courteous: Does what we do show respect? Do we learn boundaries?

Kind: Are we humble? When we offend, do we make an effort to be understanding?

Obedient: When given boundaries we stay in them?

Cheerful: Are we taking up solemn responsibilities with joy? Are we sharing the joy we gain with others?

Thrifty: Are we using our resources wisely, and not playing a game of costume "one-upmanship"?

Brave: Are we taking a stand?

Clean: Is how we act and speak about another culture high and pure?

Reverent: Are we working out our duty to God through understanding NE culture?


If this is what your are doing as you incorporate NA cultural practices, then you have your justification. This doesn't mean you'll be free from criticism from everyone. It just means you're living up to your ideals to the best of your ability.(This message has been edited by qwazse)

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