Scouts in Bloomington allows stereotypes of American Indians


Scouts use dance to connect with American Indians
By David Horn,
Herald-Times Staff Writer
Chief Teedyuskung would have felt at home in the Indiana University Fieldhouse Sunday afternoon.

As part of the week-long National Order of the Arrow Conference, more than 100 dancers in American Indian costumes bobbed and weaved and stepped to the rhythm of pounding tom-toms. Teedyuskung wasn't really a chief, but just a famous 18th century leader of the Delaware Indians, sometimes called Lenni Lenape or "original people." And Sunday's dancers weren't really Indians, but Boy Scout members of the Order of the Arrow. The Order of the Arrow, reserved for Scouts whose behavior embodies the principles of the Scout Oath and Law, is described as the Boy Scout honor society. Founded at a scout camp on Treasure Island in the Delaware River near Philadelphia in 1915, the order includes ceremonies reminiscent of Indians who originally lived on the island.

Sunday's event saw groups of dancers, performing only a few minutes each, move quickly in and out of the council ring in the center of the fieldhouse, as bells jingled from their ankles and drumbeats echoed from the walls. The leg bells have a practical purpose, according to spokesman Devlin Cooper. "Each step must be taken in rhythm with the drums," he said. "When a dancer wears bells, it's easier for the judges to tell if someone is out of step."

Boy Scouts Joe and Jason Van Buren came from Minneapolis for the competition. Jason competed in a "traditional" native American dance style. Joe won a place among the top ten finalists in the "fancy" dance category. Describing his brother's performance, Joe said Jason's style of dance included "telling stories of hunting trips which the dancer acts out." "You'll see them kind of act like birds, almost," he said, and that's why he's wearing a butterfly or traditional bustle made of many imitation eagle feathers." Jason also wore a porcupine headdress, made from the hair of a deer and the guard hairs, but not the quills, of a porcupine.

According to Cooper, the Order of the Arrow has a rich heritage in the Indian culture.
"The order helps promote the Indian culture and educate people about it," he said. "We have competition in five styles of native American dance: traditional, straight, old style, grass and fancy," Cooper said. The competition culminates tonight with an American Indian Heritage Show at Assembly Hall, where the top 10 finalists will dance on stage. The champion singing team will also perform, and the show includes a brief historical overview of how the Order is related to the American Indian culture, Cooper said. "So we do a lot of education and entertainment." Tonight's program is not open to the public, but more than 7,000 participants in the current National Order of the Arrow Conference are expected to attend.

Reporter David Horn can be reached at 331-4307 or by e-mail at
Boy Scouts converge on Bloomington
By John Meunier ,
Hoosier Times

Bringing his son Nathan to Bloomington for the National Order of the Arrow Conference took a bit of pride-swallowing for Tim Wolfe. "I'm a Purdue graduate," he said while standing next to his minivan in the parking lot of Indiana University's Assembly Hall. The father and son Scouts from Mesa, Ariz., drove four days to be a part of a gathering of more than 7,200 Boy Scouts.

Around the entrance of the building, hundreds of men and boys clad in brown shirts and wearing white sashes embroidered with red arrows milled about. The conference began Saturday night with an opening show, but most of the day was given over to registration and settling in. It is the first visit to the national conference for Nathan, 14. His membership in the Order of the Arrow means he was selected from among his troopmates for his exemplary service to the Scouts. As a Life Scout, he is one rank below that achieved by his father, an Eagle Scout who has been involved in the organization for 29 years.

Both said the Scouts are a good experience for young men. "It's clean," Nathan said. "It gets away from the junk that is around. It's fun. Half the kids I know hardly ever go camping, and I go camping about twice a month."While the Scouts cultivate the image of clean-cut boys living up to high ideals, they are still boys.

A few dozen yards away from Nathan and his dad, a cluster of three boys stood under a tree head-banging to the guitar riff in Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody," which was playing over a giant D.J. radio stand. Louis DeVito, 14, sporting a mop of blue-green hair, said the Scouts are about fun. "It sounded like fun," he said. "Plus, it naturally helps with everything jobs, school, if you ever get lost." The glib humor of young teens amused with their own cleverness turned to mischief when the three boys from Las Vegas talked about their plans for the week.

Daniel Bertolozzi, 14, talked eagerly of pranks he wanted to pull in the dormitories in which the Scouts will live until the conference wraps up Thursday.
When asked if such talk lived up to the Boy Scout code, Daniel was ready with a quick answer. "It doesn't say we can't get into trouble," he said. "It just says if we get caught we have to own up to it."

Some unfortunately standard newspaper reporting in the Hoosier Times that scouts dressing up as Indians, doing dances, etc. were learning about "the" Native American Culture. That phrase was used repeatedly in news articles, and were so off base that someone wrote to the editor. Today's paper has a thoughtful commentary that you might want to read.

Scout gathering allows stereotypes of American Indians to be repeated
Guest Column
This guest column was written by Edward J. Brantmeier, an associate instructor of Cultural Immersion Projects, School of Education at Indiana University.

The canvas tents have been removed from School of Education grounds, the headdresses packed into their cases after dancing at the IU Fieldhouse, and the arrow badges of lodge leaders and Scouts are thinning on Indiana University's campus. The Order of the Arrow will be leaving Bloomington soon. Still, the questions remain in the minds of conscientious citizens: What is this Order of the Arrow? How does it foster cross-cultural understanding? Are the participants American Indian or were they instructed properly in the ceremonies of American Indian people? Why wasn't the American Indian Heritage Show at the fieldhouse open to the public?

A quick tour of the Order of the Arrow Web site provides a little informational background ( as does the recent H-T article entitled "Scouts use dance to connect with American Indians." Though, there were no American Indians in sight. Were local American Indian people invited to oversee the event? Several issues remain unchecked: misrepresentation, authentic representation of American Indian peoples, marginalization, appropriation, hybrity, cultural pirating, ownership of cultural symbols and practices, the perpetuation of the noble/savage stereotype, and the right to self-represent to name a few. In other words, who is representing who, how are people being represented, and is it accurate and just for non-native people to represent native people are questions that need to be considered.

I just sat in a meeting of the Order of the Arrow (at the School of Education) and heard references to "arrowmaking," "smudge pots," "chiefs," "lodges," ceremonies" etc. Several members of the council appeared to be mainstream, white American. A picture on the Order of the Arrow Web site shows boys with hands over their mouths in a "war cry" expressive motion. It was reported that people in full "American Indian" regalia (headdresses or "war bonnets," buckskin, moccasins, fake eagle feathers, etc.) were conducting business outside the School of Education on Monday. True, these are the mass media stereotypes of American Indian people that are projected and often appropriated by mainstream culture. "Mainstream" culture often romanticizes (Indians living in harmony with nature) and simultaneously degrades (Indians practicing "heathen" religions and living in utter reservation poverty) American Indian people (who overwhelmingly refer to themselves by tribe: Navajo, Arapaho, Cherokee, Miami and otherwise).

Let's walk a mile in someone else's moccasins. The projection of the noble savage stereotype is a paradox that many American Indian people find themselves confronting when interacting with mainstream America. American Indian friends have relayed to me that they were approached by children at powwows and told, "You're an Indian. You must be spiritual." Or, they were taunted at with the "war whoop." How do young white members of the Order of the Arrow perceive American Indian people after the Order's "lodges" and "ceremonies?" How are the Boy Scouts, and particularly the Order of the Arrow, constructing and perpetuating a homogenous American Indian identity? There are Cheyenne, Teyesta, Nez Perce, Abnaki, Chumash, Oneida tribes and many more with very different cultural traditions, languages, statuses as sovereign nations, and relative economic situations. Headdresses, buckskins and arrows construct a mainstream "imagined past" while skirting the issues of the massacre at Wounded Knee, the Navajo's Long Walk, and the true story behind Pocahantas.

Are practices of linguistic, cultural and human genocide and relocation that were sanctioned by the United States of America, the bloody realities of a silenced history, discussed in Order of the Arrow meetings? Or is simply a new form of exploitation becoming apparent the appropriation and romantification of American Indian cultural practices and ritual by mainstream organizations? This spring the First Indiana University powwow, organized and attended by many local Native American people, was a step in the right direction for displaying Indiana University's and the Bloomington community's support for American Indian people and cultural traditions. But in the same year, Indiana University, an institution of higher learning, multi-culturalism and internationalism has sanctioned this Order of the Arrow event that perpetuates noble savage stereotypes of American Indian people.

Native American people are still extremely underrepresented in student populations here on campus. Isn't it ironic? Or is mainstream America simply choosing what type of Indian it wants again?