Scott’s Brotherhood Blog #6: A New Culture Beckons

Scott Hinrichs

Scott Hinrichs

Our attention was riveted on the four young men standing before us as the flickering firelight danced on their Native American dress. I later learned that the chief of this group not only looked the part, but was an actual Native American wearing authentic gear. Some of the words they spoke seemed mysterious. Other words were familiar to all Scouts.

I left the ceremony site that night with more than a new Order of the Arrow sash. A desire to know more about the Native American elements of the OA was firmly planted in my mind. I was both surprised and pleased a few days later to learn that I could play a role in OA ceremonies.

While many know the OA by “its wide use of American Indian lore, customs, and attire,” members are cautioned that this focus must not “obscure the purpose of the Order of the Arrow” (Order of the Arrow Handbook,  [2015],  Boy Scouts of America, 71). That purpose is to help boys so exemplify the Scout Oath and Law that others emulate their actions. It is to help boys develop a lifelong practice of unselfishly serving others. (OA Handbook, 7).

The OA uses Native American traditions “for dramatic effect in the ceremonies and terminology of the Order” (OA Handbook, 71). That emphasis intrigued me as a young Scout. Despite having distant Native American ancestry, I knew little of this culture. Understanding has grown over my years in the Order, occasionally punctuated by embarrassing gaffes.oabrotherhood

The first time I played an OA ceremony role, my outfit was made of thrift store trousers, a Hollywood-ish shirt sewn by my mom, a velveteen apron, and a feathered war bonnet that was made from a kit that bore little resemblance to anything authentic. A lot of love and work went into that costume. But that’s all it was: a costume for a performer.

Over time knowledgeable OA members and gracious members of Native American communities helped hone my understanding. My outfit shifted from fake costume to more authentic and meaningful regalia, within reason. OA members use substitutes for wildlife resources that are legal only for tribal members.

I have watched many young men repeat this learning process after joining the OA. The Order advises those that are interested in its Native American elements to research and learn about the tribes that live or lived near them, and to reverently respect religious beliefs, including beliefs that are no longer practiced. After all, “You would be offended if your worship service was used for entertainment” (OA Handbook, 77).

Anytime Scouts employ Native American elements they should work to ensure that what they do respects the culture. After a great deal of hard work, cultural learning, building outfits, and learning dance moves, I watched OA members Gary and Casey nervously step by invitation into a powwow arena to dance among Native Americans. Their fellow dancers respected and honored them because they had first shown great respect for the dancers and their culture.

What does any of this have to do with Latter-day Saint Scouts? The main goal of Scouting in the Church is to promote the purposes of the Aaronic Priesthood. Among those purposes is to prepare to serve an honorable full-time mission. Nearly every full-time missionary experiences culture shock upon beginning service in the mission field, even if that service is only a few hundred miles from home.

Learning about another culture prior to leaving on a mission can provide tools and skills for appreciating unfamiliar cultural elements the new missionary will encounter. It can also make it easier for the missionary to adapt to new circumstances. Most Americans live near Native American cultures that are quite different than their own. Yet most Americans remain largely ignorant of those cultures.

The OA can provide opportunities for prospective missionary Latter-day Saint Scouts to experience one or more of these cultures. This in turn can help these young men become more effective missionaries more quickly as they encounter new cultures in the mission field.

Couple this cultural opportunity with the prospect OA members have to develop the essential missionary habit of cheerful unselfish service to others, and you will see why is it highly desirable for Latter-day Saint Scouts to become members of the Order of the Arrow.


Questions to Ponder

  • Is it useful for prospective missionaries to gain an appreciation of other cultures?
  • Are you aware of the cultural experiences your boys can gain through the Order of the Arrow?
  • What will you do to help the boys in your unit have this opportunity?


-Scott Hinrichs has been actively Scouting since age eight. He has served in many youth and adult Scouting positions and has been a member of the Order of the Arrow for more than four decades. He and his wife are raising their family in North Ogden, Utah. The views and opinions expressed in this message are solely those of the author.

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  1. Deon Black says:

    Cultural appreciation is a good thing. However, I think the OA use of Cultural or pseudo-cultural elements is riding the line between Appreciation and appropriation. We must remain always to hold the originating culture in reverence and respect, least we mock and disrespect the culture. We can appreciate without taking elements upon ourselves to represent a culture that has yet to welcome us as members. When we do take these elements and represent the foreign culture, we are appropriating the culture, and tailoring it to fit our use. I think this would be wrong. Better to assimilate our culture to the ideals of the representative culture, then take upon ourselves the emblems and elements of that culture to signify our assimilation to the point we can accurately represent the culture. The OA is a fine organization, but I feel the need for caution, that we first understand the culture we wish to represent, assimilate to that cultural view and always respect it.

    1. Your admonishment is well said. At one point the BSA considered dropping the Native American elements of the OA. BSA representatives met with various tribal leaders about the matter. A wide variety of views was expressed. While some tribal leaders disliked the OA’s use of Native American elements, most felt that it could be beneficial if done in a respectful manner.

      Pursuant to those meetings, the OA modified its rules regarding Native American elements. Face paint, for example, should not used except where it is approved by a local tribe.

      Even today some tribal members want the OA to completely drop its Native American emphasis. A small group of Native Americans held a respectful protest to this effect at last year’s National Order of the Arrow Conference. The BSA is constantly working with tribes and monitoring attitudes among tribes and OA members and adjusting policies accordingly.

      The day may come when the BSA decides to drop Native American elements from the OA. Or maybe not. For now, Scouts have an opportunity to gain hands on experience with a culture that many are unfamiliar with. OA members must exercise care and respect in this matter.

      It’s not all bad. I know of several Native American men who developed a lifelong interest in their own culture through their membership in the Order.

  2. Wallace Ashley says:

    Thanks, Scott. I agree this can go both ways for nonNative arrowmen and, like my son, those who are enrolled members of a North American Tribe. My son was the reason I became involved in Scouting when he came home from school with that infamous flyer his first few weeks of 1st grade. Although he was dealing with some developmental issues (late speaking) at the time, this did not stop him from gleaning the significance of what was contained on that half sheet of colored paper. I had always assumed he had been given some sort of presentation to create this passion that was to become his very first opportunity to join something without his parents making the decision for him. I was not excited about the meeting, but did return home as a new Tiger den leader. That was 15 years ago, this next month, and the adventure that came after that first gathering not only changed his and my life, but also his older sister who joined Venturing and resulted in her earning just the 3rd Silver award in our council, along with being active all the way up to the Western region for Venturing.

    What became the most significant experience for my son was when he was inducted into OA in May of 07. He had begun Northern traditional dancing when his grandfather, the full blood Dakotah in my family (my mother was 1/4 Rosebud Lakotah), held a naming ceremony for his 6 youngest grandchildren. He was a Wolf cub scout at the time, but clearly was very much a traditional dancer for years leading up to his OA induction. Upon completing his ordeal, and mine as well, I became the OA adviser for the chapter that was named after the Cheyenne. Not being Cheyenne, I asked the youth what they wanted to do and the overwhelming answer was to be Cheyenne Dog Soldiers. They were using some pretty awful headdresses made tom kits at the time and I was more then happy to see those retired from their ceremonial outfits. At the time my DE/Supreme Chief of the Fire was half Comanche and a member of the Comanche War Dance Society. Thru his connections we made contact with the CWDS and sought approval to use the Dog Soldier warrior society as the new focus for the chapter. The arrow men got to work making new items of clothing and accessories to use for ceremonies, but my son and I created a dance outfit that was a combination of the Cheyenne and Sioux (Oceti Sakowin) Dog Soldier societies and in particular an emphasis on the events that occurred at the Battle of Little Big Horn, which would become instrumental for him when he created a mural and performed a dance at his graduation from HS.

    He was also the head dancer at a new, Native chapter middle school which culminated in their first powwow a few weeks after he completed his OA ordeal, which was an interesting time to see how both his traditional dancing was about to be overtaken by a passion to be a very different kind of historical dancer. He started out being a Northern Traditional powwow dancer and evolved into a historical dancer, not unlike the impressions that you see at civil war reenactments, only with bells on. From time to time he would remove parts of the outfit he was now wearing to still dance at powwows, but it was the OA performances and ceremonies that were much more exciting for him, because it went beyond current day powwow culture and was more linked to a historic moment in time that you will never see at a traditional powwow, plus he got to carry a replica Henry rifle. I wish I could share some of the images of his transformation, because he got more out his OA experience then anyone who was active in the lodge, from a cultural perspective, even though he was depicting something that was of a different tribe then his own. I think it was that difference that gave him the opportunity to have an OA experience that truly impacted his life and view of his world. He went on to earn his Eagle rank in 2012 and just a few months before his HS graduation, he completed his Vigil at the camp where it all began 6 years earlier, along with that mural art/dance performance at his graduation. As it worked out with his Brotherhood ceremony and dancing just prior to it, he danced just prior to the Vigil naming ceremony after staying up all night, and was still dressed to go thru the ceremony, as it was meant to be.

    1. Wallace, Thanks for your comment. I’m so happy that Scouting and the OA have been fulfilling experiences for your son.

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