December 05, 2009

Indian origin of the Boy Scouts

Boy Scouts of AmericaScouting had two notable predecessors in the United States: the Woodcraft Indians started by Ernest Thompson Seton in 1902 and the Sons of Daniel Boone founded by Daniel Carter Beard in 1905. In 1907, British General Robert Baden-Powell founded the Scouting movement in England using elements of Seton's works.Ernest Thompson SetonErnest Thompson Seton (August 14, 1860-October 23, 1946) was a Scots-Canadian (and naturalized U.S. citizen) who became a noted author, wildlife artist, founder of the Woodcraft Indians, and one of the founding pioneers of the Boy Scouts of America (BSA). Seton also heavily influenced Lord Baden-Powell, the founder of Scouting. His notable books related to Scouting include The Birch Bark Roll and The Boy Scout Handbook. He is responsible for the strong influence of American Indian culture in the BSA.


Seton met Scouting's founder, Lord Baden-Powell, in 1906. Baden-Powell had read Seton's book, The Birch Bark Roll of the Woodcraft Indians, and was greatly intrigued by it. The pair met and shared ideas. Baden-Powell went on to found the Scouting movement worldwide, and Seton became vital in the foundation of the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) and was its first Chief Scout. His Woodcraft Indians (a youth organization), combined with the early attempts at Scouting from the YMCA and other organizations, and Daniel Carter Beard's Sons of Daniel Boone, to form the BSA. The work of Seton and Beard is in large part the basis of the Traditional Scouting movement.

Seton was Chief Scout of the BSA from 1910-1915 and his work is in large part responsible for the American Indian influences within the BSA.

"Ernest Thompson Seton (left) with Baden-Powell (seated) and fellow Boy Scouts of America pioneer Dan Beard (right)."

United States Boy Scout Activities:  Indian LoreErnest Seton helped introduced Indian lore including ceremonies, dancing, and handicrafts. His book The Birch Bark Roll was another important source of activities. This is a major difference between American and other Scouting programs around the World Baden Powell's program, especially the Cubbing program, gave considerable emphasis on Africa and Powell's experiences with military Scouts during the Bohr War. The American program had more of a focus on American Indian lore. While this emphasis is much less important today, Indian lore is still a Scout merit badge and Indian lore continues to be used in both BSA Cub and Scout publications. Some Scout Troops have shown a real interest in Indian lore and have organized Native American dance teams which give demonstrations at campfires and other Scouting events.Seton out of Scouting

History of the Boy Scouts of AmericaAs early as 1910, Beard and Seton had an argument over who was the founder of Scouting. Programs for boys had been advanced by Seton in 1902, Beard in 1905 and Baden-Powell in 1906. Since Baden-Powell had based parts of the program on Seton's work, Seton claimed to be the founder. By 1915, the conflicts between had escalated and in an attempt to defuse the situation, West began promoting the story of the Unknown Scout that emphasized Boyce as the founder of the BSA. Seton still had Canadian citizenship, and this chafed some in the BSA, including West who often referred to him as "our alien friend." The board did not re-elect Seton as Chief Scout in 1915 and he soon stopped publishing in Boys' Life. By early 1916, Seton was officially out of the BSA program, and most of his contributions were removed from the 1916 edition of the handbook. Seton later established the Woodcraft League based on his older works and claimed he had not actually merged them into the BSA.Here's another reason Seton may have distanced himself from Baden-Powell and Scouting or vice versa:

Scouts founder Baden-Powell 'was a war criminal who had tribal chief executed illegally'The founder of the Scouts, Lord Baden-Powell, has been accused of being a war criminal who illegally executed an African warrior chief.

Baden-Powell, who will forever be associated with the scouting movement which he founded in 1907, is accused of ordering the execution of a tribal chief against the orders of his superiors while serving in Africa with the army in 1896.

He even altered his diary entries to reflect his version of the story--claiming that Uwini, the leader of the tribe in Matabeleland--now Zimbabwe--was captured in battle, rather than surrendering.
Comment:  Hmm. I wonder if Baden-Powell had the same attitude as Teddy Roosevelt: admiring indigenous people as fierce, savage warriors, but not as full-fledged human beings equal to himself.

For more on the subject, see Educating Scouts About Stereotypes and Boy Scouts Dishonor Indians.

Below:  "Lord Baden-Powell is accused of illegally ordering a firing squad to execute a tribal leader."


Unknown said...

Boy Scouts learning and performing Indian dance ceremonies make about as much sense as me learning and performing Greek Orthodox dance ceremonies: no way can it pass muster, ascribe to anything authentic, nor achieve anything short of blasphemy. Like the poor stereotyped Indian in the cupboard said, "You should not perform magic you do not understand."

--Clyde Hodge (Muscogee (Creek)), President, California Indian Education Association

mjlist said...

Most unfortunate is the complete lack of credit to Charles Hakadah Eastman who was instrumental in the origins of the American scouting program. It was his writings and influence that prompted Seton to get involved. His involvement also accounts for the traditional native influences still found in scouts.