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Burnside

Use/Abuse of Native culture in Arrow of Light Ceremony

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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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As I understand it, the standard OA ceremonies are vetted by tribal elders and variations of the script are not allowed. Perhaps the same should be done for the AOL ceremony.

 

Ed P.

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I've been reading with interest the various views regarding the use of American Native culture in the BSA and OA.

 

It's quite a heated topic and opinions are strong on both sides.

 

I don't wish to add to the arguement but I must say that if NA terms, and imagery are to be used, at least have the common courtesy to learn what is right and what is wrong, what is appropriate and what is considered very offensive.

 

I was quite shocked, for example, to learn that most Lnape terms used in the OA are not even close to what the correct Lnape words actually are to say nothing of how they are pronounced or even used! Indeed, many of the words found in OA nomenclature are either entirely made up or are grammatically very incorrect to the point of making aboslutely no sense(including the WWW and the "Admonition" - sorry folks).

 

I would encourage anyone involved in portraying native culture to at least research it enough and get opinions (if possible),as some have done here, of local Nations.

 

As to not finding some of the AoL and OA ceremonies offensive, let me ask a rhetorical question posed by a few (Native) people I've talked to....

 

If a group of people from a hypothetical island which had a respected youth group were to construct a replica of a European church and hold initiation ceremonies for that group loosely based on the Christian (be it RC or Protestant) Mass, complete with the leader attired in "proper" priest's/pastor's vestments would you find that offensive??

 

This post is not meant to "bash" anyone, just food for thought....

 

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First of all, I am not surprised at terms which may or may not have been from the Lenape language are mispronounced. How many native speakers are there today and how many lodges have access to them?

There is no disrespect intended. To give another example, many Latin-origin words are mispronounced and misspelled today, even by the US government in official documents (I will not bore you with examples).

As far as the example of a group using Christian imagery in a ceremony causing offense... I doubt it if no offense was intended. It actually happens to some extent. Some common imagery of the age of chivalry, knights errant etc. is historically wrong. Few people get upset. In fact, few people even if their ancestry is from that background understand their past well enough to recognize a glitch. Vikings for example did not wear cow horns on their helmets, but did you ever see someone with a Nordic ancestry picketing over that?

A co-worker of mine who is Lakota and proud of her heritage told me she wouldnt know an authentic Lakota ceremony from, say, the 1700s if it walked up and bit her. She has been told much of what she sees at Lakota gatherings today is an amalgam of Lakota, Dakota, and even eastern seaboard tribal origin (at least according to her grandmother). What is authentic in a society governed by oral tradition depends to some extent on which living memory of that oral tradition you consult and how seriously that person takes your question.

Lastly, there is a lot of politics and individual opinion involved in how Native Americans see the issue and there is no one common viewpoint. A well-known Native American (Lakota) journalist in my neck of the woods periodically publishes opinion pieces on how sports teams named after Native Americans should be banned as offensive. When informed that the Seminoles had officially blessed the use of their name by the team and university in Florida, he responded by publically attacking the Seminole tribal council as turncoats and traitors to (his) view of what Native Americans should be.

Moral: You cant please everyone. Just look in your own heart and see if the intent is respectful or mocking and go from there.

 

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In reference tot he Lanape language, yep there are challenges with pronunciation, and spelling for that matter. if you look at the origins of our modern pronuncuation of Lanape, there were three separate indiviuals involved in the process, 1 Englishman, 1 German, and 1 I forgot. Anytime you try to translate a language, your own language will play a part. Latin is a good example b/c Roman Latin is different than modern Latin. Latin non est mortalis, est immortalis!

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I've been in the OA for decades. I think the native american stuff is lame and I stay away from the dancing and ceremonies because I think it is absurd. I am in the OA to give cheerful service. I enjoy doing my part to keep camps running and repair things around the scout reservation. The indian junk I could do without. I know that for every Lakota screaming that we are violating their sacred culture there is a Cherokee in the OA saying this is all cool, but it still feels stupid to see black and white kids standing around in headdresses trying to talk like Graham Greene. It's time to let that stuff go, imo.

 

As for Cub Scout ceremonies - why is anyone having solemn, serious ceremonies? It's cub scouts? We laugh during ours. When we cross boys over, we talk casually during the ceremony to the kids - not try to make it a military medal presentation by badly reading from scripts.

 

I think pirates and jedi would be a cool crossover ceremony. I think inviting the OA in to do it is a huge wet blanket. Those are slow and generally offensive and uncomfortable for most 21st century educated americans.

 

 

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