Indian Lore has always been popular with boys in Scouting. Even Cub Scouts have adventures to explore this topic. 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.

Indian lore has been apart of Scouting from the beginning. In 1902, one of BSA’s founders, Ernest Thompson Seton, created a group of young boys called the Woodcraft Indians. Their program was based on American Indian traditions and culture. Upon meeting this group, Baden Powell was strongly influenced and eventually adopted some of their ideas into the Scouting program, merging the Woodcraft Indians into the BSA. Ernest Thompson Seton served as the Chief Scout from 1910-1915.

One of the obvious uses of American Indian culture within the Boy Scouts is the Order of the Arrow (OA). The OA puts a strong emphasis on the use of Native American customs. For example, members of the Order of the Arrow will participate in traditional Indian dances and ceremonies. The purpose is to not make fun of these dances and ceremonies but to instill the strong trait of brotherhood.

Another example would be Cub Scouts. The Cub Scouting program is about 50/50 being based off The Jungle Book and Native American culture. The History of Cub Scouting states, “A strong influence from Kipling’s Jungle Book remains today. The terms “Law of the Pack,” “Akela,” “Wolf Cub,” “grand howl,” “den,” and “pack” all come from the Jungle Book. At the same time, the Gold and Silver Arrow Points, Webelos emblem, and Arrow of Light emblem are taken from our American Indian heritage.

The Boy Scouts of America encourages complete understanding and full respect of the Native American culture. According to the Guide to Inductions, page 31, it states: 

The use of face paint, body paint, and wigs by non-American Indians could be offensive to some groups of American Indian people. Where lodge activities related to ceremony or dance are offensive to local American Indians they must be discontinued by Order of the Arrow members. Appropriate local use is to be interpreted by each lodge based on its relationship with American Indian tribes in the council area. National Order of the Arrow conferences, conclaves and other events conducted beyond the individual lodge will not permit face paint, body paint, or wigs to be used in social or competition dancing or in ceremonies or ceremony team evaluations. 

In other words, each lodge and Scouting unit should contact their local American Indian tribes to discuss what would be appropriate and/or offensive. It is highly recommended to build a relationship with your local tribe to truly respect the Native American culture.

The Indian Lore Merit Badge is a great way to get your Scouts to learn about Indian Lore. In this merit badge, Scouts will learn about traditional Native American regalia and games. They could research how specific Indian tribes would hunt, fish, or trap. Scouts could become knowledgable about Indian sign language, songs, Indian leaders, and more. The Indian Lore Merit Badges will take your Scouts on an adventure to discover some of America’s fascinating peoples.

As Scouts, it is your duty to honor the Native American culture. It is important for Scouting leaders (adult and youth) to instill the sense of respect when practicing some of the cultural dances, ceremonies, etc. Remember, the purpose of Indian Lore within the Boy Scouts isn’t to copy their practices but to appreciate them.

What are ways that you and your Scouts respect the Native American culture?

16 comments

  1. Avatar
    Jimmy Lee Beason II says:

    This is ridiculous. Our culture is not something you can simply take on and off and use at will. It speaks volumes of the kind of white privilege that allows non-Natives to engage in “acting like Indians” for a couple of hours, while actual Native people have to deal with the harsh realities of being ACTUAL Natives everyday. Just stop it already.

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    Scouting has a very mixed up history when it comes to native americans, romani people irish and other minorities . also scouting had inmates in indian industrial schools . Sometimes native americans have needed to prove indian status. the scouting programs should be offering their records of people who were in state school scouting programs. those programs were part of early indian ed laso there ws law enforecement exploring at district courts for the police , state hosptials indian residential schols and inmate scouting programs they became title vii indian educaiton and american indian scouting association i it is imortant for natives who were affected to get eagle scouting awards, access the school districts with an academic record , graduate and learn from native american (indians and persons of color in tribes , commonwealth indians ) elders or other minority related cutlural groups .

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    Allowat Sakima says:

    Wow you must not be a very active OA member as all ceremonies I’ve seen have held Native American practices in HIGHEST of honors and respect.

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    Tom says:

    Absolute nonsense. This kind of attitude causes division among people. When taken to extremes, it would mean than a caucasion should not cooking or preparing Mexican, Chinese, or Italian style food or a own a house that with Spanish style Tile roofs. Maybe I should not have that Swiss Coo Koo clock. I have Native American friends who are involved in Boy Scouts and support the Order of the Arrow.

    Is wearing a headress at at Halloween inapropriate? yes. Is teaching and having youth learn about Native American dance and signing a good thing. Absolutely. It breaks down barriers between peoples and helps build understanding and respect.

    Cultural Appropriation is a concept that can be dangerous.

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    Derrick says:

    Cultural appropriation at it’s finest. “Oh we’re not disrespecting your ceremonies and cultures, we want to help you honor them” You always here this BS. We neither ASKED for OR NEED your help honoring our traditions. That’s not your place. This behavior is no better than American Indian mascots or blackface. Go celebrate and honor your own European traditions and leave us alone!

    1. Avatar
      Tom says:

      Absolute nonsense. This kind of attitude causes division among people. When taken to extremes, it would mean than a caucasion should not cooking or preparing Mexican, Chinese, or Italian style food or a own a house that with Spanish style Tile roofs. Maybe I should not have that Swiss Coo Koo clock. I have Native American friends who are involved in Boy Scouts and support the Order of the Arrow.

      Is wearing a headress at at Halloween inapropriate? yes. Is teaching and having youth learn about Native American dance and signing a good thing. Absolutely. It breaks down barriers between peoples and helps build understanding and respect.

      Cultural Appropriation is a concept that can be dangerous.

  6. Avatar
    Scott Ashwell says:

    As an Eagle Scout, Scout parent and current Cubmaster, the traditions of incorporating various ceremonies utilizing Scouts representing Native Americans has always been a respectful part of both the Cub Scout and Boy Scout programs. The ceremonies are always respectful and the Native Americans represent wisdom and respect for not only each other, but the outdoors, the land, the air and the sea and a general love of the land. The “Indian” was the wise one whom we listened to, for they had been around much longer than we had. We listened to and respected what he told us. At least in our council, there is no imitation of “native dancing” or slapping of the hand against the mouth as the old stereotypes portrayed.

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    Saget says:

    Rather than ask for input and instruction from Native Americans, let’s again strip the BSA of traditions that built this organization. $sarcasm. I continue to discount the national leadership for their lack of ties to the foundations of scouting and concessions whenever someone feels offended. I’m offended that we’ve built one of the strongest, most upright and moral organizations in the world and we’re constantly being asked to peel portions off and discard them like they don’t matter.

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      Jennifer says:

      “I’m offended that we’ve built one of the strongest, most upright and moral organizations in the world and we’re constantly being asked to peel portions off and discard them like they don’t matter.” Well, gee, that’s weird. What do you think is happening to the very tribes you’re peeling traditions off to call “yours”?

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        Mark says:

        I don’t see the BSA as peeling off Native American Traditions. I see it as sharing them. Not disrespect, but reproducing them. Has the Native American been treated badly? Absolutely! Can we do better? Absolutely! But learning about it is the first step and OA ceremonies try to do this.

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    Erin Blank says:

    Our Pack is part of the Conestoga Valley school district, where we get the wagon and rifle of the same name. Our nickname is the Buckskin.

    I would love to see the Buckskin tradition reinvigorated with the idea that the explorers who wore buckskins not only learned this skill from the Native tribes, but had no choice but to learn from them and respect them as they explored the West.

    By that logic a Scout might wear a Native decoration, but only if gifted to them from a member of a Tribe. Otherwise their (ceremonial) dress would be historically pioneer in composition.

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    Daniel Luechtefeld says:

    Without direct input from the tribes, there is no respect for Native American culture. Most tribes object to these practices. BSA no longer needs to use their cultural property. I say this as an OA member; I’d like to see the whole ceremonies aspect discontinued.

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      Michele says:

      I agree with this statement. Duty to God is part of the Scouting culture, yet I am pretty sure there are no boys or young men wearing a priest’s robes and chanting in Latin. These ceremonies are so offensive and the fact that the OA has “generic” scripts that are not offensive shows that they are well aware that what they are doing is wrong, but that they are choosing to not do the right thing.

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        Sarah says:

        The idea that there can be Native American culture not tied to an actual Native American tribe is a non sequitur.

        The reality is that at its inception Scouts BSA was imitating Native American dance at a time when actual Native Americans were being sent to boarding schools and stripped of the right to practice their culture and speak their language.

        If Scouts BSA wants to remember that history they should discontinue OA ceremonies and instead encourage Scouts to participate in projects that help tribes preserve their native language or otherwise serve Native Americans.

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