November 01, 2012

Boy Scouts initiated Indian days

Native American Heritage Month has a surprising origin

By Richard ThorntonThe Boy Scouts of America was the first institution in the United States to recognize a day that honored Native Americans. Dr. Arthur C. Parker, a Seneca Tribe member, was the director of the Museum of Arts and Science in Rochester, NY. From the turn of the century onward he campaigned for special recognition of the indigenous people’s many contributions to North American civilization. He finally convinced leaders of the recently formed, Boy Scouts of America, to set aside a day for honoring the “First Americans” in 1915.

That same year, E. Urner Goodman, a 25 year old Scoutmaster in Philadelphia, accepted the job of camp director of the Philadelphia Boy Scout Council’s Treasure Island camp on the Delaware River. He implemented Native American themes in the camp, based on the characters in Jame Fenimore Cooper’s “Last of the Mohicans.” At the end of their time at the camp, the boys would vote on a select few scouts who they thought best projected the ideals of “Scouting.” Those so honored, were inducted into an Indian lodge with elaborate Delaware Indian rituals.

By 1921 Goodman’s special recognition program had spread to some other parts of the nation, and was known as the Order of the Arrow. It was originally more of a popularity contest than a measure of Native American traits. Apparently, no American Indians were members of the Order of the Arrow in its early days. Nevertheless, this special fraternity within the Boy Scouts of America has continued to honor the indigenous heritage of North America for almost a century.

In May of 1916, again at the behest of Albert C. Parker, the State of New York declared American Indian Day. Illinois legislators designated American Indian Day in 1919. Soon several states began designating the fourth Friday in September as American Indian Day. Several states continue to have a Native American Day, but it has never had the status of a national legal holiday.
Comment:  For more on the subject, see NBC's Heritage Month Promos and Heritage Month and Tribal Summit.

Below:  "The cultural traditions of Indigenous Peoples across North America are far more diverse than portrayed in Hollywood movies. This drawing is of the Stomp Dance of the Muskogean tribes of the Southeast."

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