August 07, 2015

MSU students protest Boy Scouts

Members of the Indigenous Graduate Student Collective stage protest on NOAC

By Matthew Argillander and Ryan KryskaIf you've been on MSU's campus this week, you have most likely noticed the presence of the Boy Scouts of America and the Order of the Arrow for their centennial exhibition.

After Phillip Rice, a music composition graduate student and member of the Order of the Arrow, sent an opinion letter to The State News expressing displeasure with the event being held at MSU, Shelbi Meissner, a member of the Indigenous Graduate Student Collective and descendent of the Luiseno and CupeƱo in Southern-California, teamed up with Rice at Spartan Statue to protest the group's use of Native American culture and imagery.

One of the main reasons Meissner, a philosophy graduate student, cited for protesting was the presence of teepees and individuals wearing headdresses around campus.

"They have a racist caricature of a native man in a headdress that they claim is no longer one of their insignias, but it has been flying on a hot air balloon around campus as well as on a lot of the banners that have come in here," Meissner said. "As a Native American woman I find it highly offensive, and as a member of this community I feel really offended that MSU would host a group like this without any regard for how it would make a lot of students and faculty feel."
Students paint the Rock discouraging Boy Scout use of Native American culture on campus

By Catherine Ferland and Ryan KryskaAmidst the 2015 National Order of the Arrow Conference on campus this week, students have taken issue to the Boy Scout's use of Native American culture and imagery.

Anthropology senior Hayley Cook and alumnus Dan Grenzicki set out to paint the Rock on Farm Lane at 11 p.m. on Thursday. Their goal was to raise awareness of Native American cultural appropriation onset by the Boy Scouts of America.
Some reactions from Scouts:John Quimby, an Eagle Scout from Conn., said, “I’ve grown up in the Native community. It is just a touchy subject and it should be changed. They are trying to go for an image that is old and outdated. What I was taught in Boy Scouts and what I learned at the powwows were completely different.”

Quimby said he has spent a lot of time at powwows and was adopted into Native American tribes, even though he is of Filipino descent.

Jasper Wallen, 19-year-old assistant Scoutmaster from Idaho, said, “I don't always feel happy about the ways that we act as Native Americans. But we do have Native American tribe leaders that watch over and make sure that we are doing it respectfully. It is not really the racist thing that a lot of people think.”

Cooper Hanks, 15-year-old Life Scout from Idaho, said, “It is not offensive, it is more an inclusion. It is like any Christian group that tries to bring people in. Let's learn about each others religions and beliefs and be respectful. Even if you don't believe in it, see what they see and don’t be negative.”


"Let's learn"...about stereotypes

A Boy Scout mother explains what's wrong with the Order of the Arrow (OA):

Boys Scouts Order of the Arrow Guilty of Cultural Appropriation

By Ozheebeegay IkweOne of the adults who is actively involved in our troop described the OA “tapping out” ceremony to me. Imagine my surprise when he said there will be “Indians on canoes.” I asked him which tribe was involved, and he replied that the boys dress up like Indians for the OA ceremony. And so it began… I wrote him a heartfelt letter explaining why cultural appropriation is wrong. I communicated to him that wearing redface isn’t ok. I included a mini history lesson, shared some personal experiences, and touched on US policy dealing with Indigenous people. I even admitted to him that I myself, a multi-racial person, haven’t always been aware of cultural appropriation and its harmful effects. He did not directly address my concerns, but responded by saying there are tough requirements to even be nominated for OA, and scouters take it quite seriously. “It is not something they just do for fun.” He also stated that he believes they “use our Native Americans as role models.” He asked me to check out the OA because he knows the sincerity and quality of the scouts and scouters who participate.

So I did what he asked me to. The Order of the Arrow has been around for 99 years. According to what I read online, Edson and Goodman, the founders of OA, researched the language and traditions of the Lenni Lenape people. They wanted to include “Indian lore” in the OA to make the organization more appealing to the youth. This was during a time when our loved ones and ancestors were being taken from their families, assimilated, and “civilized.” This was during a time when Native people were considered less than human. While Native children in residential schools had their culture and language beaten from them, the Boy Scouts were using the language and their version of “Indian culture” in their OA ceremony. In fact, it wasn’t until 1978 that the American Indian Religious Freedom act was passed. That means non-Native members of the BSA were conducting their “Indian” ceremonies when Indigenous people in the United States didn’t even have the freedom of religion and culture that other people in the United States enjoyed.

As I searched Google images of the OA and watched YouTube videos of the OA ceremonies, I became even more uncomfortable. In fact, I feel the OA ceremony is downright offensive. At the Wahissa lodge OA, they don headdresses, face paint, sit and sing around a big drum, and dance with a pipe. At other OA ceremonies, they mix West Coast native art and plains style headdresses. Ironically, some of these “Indian” ceremonies are held in churches and priests are involved. It appears there is ongoing use of the big drum, hand drum, pipe, “eagle feather,” and headdress within the OA. Use of these items by Boy Scouts indicates that there is very little understanding of the Native people they claim to admire and respect.

I have been told that if we are not using these sacred objects as they are intended, we aren’t walking the walk. Along with carrying and using these items, comes a great deal of responsibility. Not just anyone should have them. I want my children to know the truth that is the Drum, Pipe, and Eagle Feather. I want them to understand that traditional ways are not a costume or boy scout initiation. They are alive, they are sacred. An Elder often reminds me that before we were born, we all had something in common. We listened to the heart beat for nine months. We didn’t know how to speak, think, or see. I believe that drum is the heartbeat that is alive in all of us. I believe it is to be loved and respected.

There is nothing honorable about an honor society appropriating culture.
A discussion of these postings on Facebook:The problem is so much larger than mascots. Little is said about the role of the Boy Scouts and summer camps in maintaining stereotypes. It needs to be made clear that there is no way for non-natives to "respectfully" appropriate native culture. While we all enjoy the benefits of globalization that bring us the food and music of the world, no one would think of "playing" at being Mexican, Asian or African, no matter how carefully researched for authenticity in apparel, adornment, and speech. Why are Native Americans different? Because modern indigenous peoples are otherwise invisible to Euro-Americans, while the stereotypes are everywhere.Right. A key question to ask these "respectful" people is:

There are 567 recognized tribes and many more throughout North and South America. There are literally thousands of them. How do you respectfully portray these thousand of diverse cultures in your program? Or are you inevitably relying on a few stereotypes--chiefs, arrows, etc.--that homogenize Native cultures and situate them in the distant past?

I'd be amazed if the Boy Scouts picked random tribes from Alaska, Greenland, Quebec, Nova Scotia, Ohio, Texas, Puerto Rico, Guatemala, Panama, Venezuela, Bolivia, and so forth and taught THEIR cultures. I'm guessing that'll never happen.

The founders supposedly researched the Lenni Lenape...but now the activities involve generic or Plains stereotypes. The Scouts may be respectful, but what they're respecting is false and misleading stereotypes.

We don't care about their intent; we care about the misinformation they're spreading. That and only that is the issue here.

For more on Scouts, see Boy Scount "Indian Dance Team" and Order of the Arrow's Indian Play.

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