Monday, July 31, 2017

No Shirts, No Shoes? No ceremony.

“By show of hands has anyone ever heard the phrase, ‘It takes a village to raise a child’?”
“Are there any of you younger folks in this room who know what that phrase means?”

This is how I have begun many a class, teaching about Native Culture to young people in schools, scouts, civic organizations, and other groups.

According to Wikipedia: ‘A child has the best ability to become a healthy adult if the entire community takes an active role in contributing to the rearing of the child’.

I am here to inform you we are *all* ‘children’ when it comes to Native American culture. Please don’t take offense when I say this - it is simply to indicate there is literally, figuratively, and actually too much information on the nearly 1000 tribes in North America to be able to ‘know it all’. Although people I look up to in the Indian Community think of me as an ‘expert’, and despite how much I have learned over the past 36 years, I am still just a child when it comes to what I know of the entirety of Native Culture.

Let me lead off with an example of how a lack of knowledge can be harmful. A number of years ago, my family and I went to a local powwow – a dance at a local college. I had been there for several hours when I noticed some young men come in with a friend I knew from Scouts. I thought nothing of this, because it wasn’t out of the norm – many of our local dances and events not only welcome, but encourage scout involvement. But as we were gathering for Grand Entry, I noticed two of these boys, now in dance clothes, were not wearing shoes – only socks. I cautioned both of them to put on shoes, even if they were only sneakers – and I felt that the warning should have been enough. Right after the Grand Entry set was done, this little old lady whose name I didn’t know at the time came up to me, picking at my scarf. She said “you should take care of your boys”. I said, “ma’am, I have three daughters and no boys.” She said, “You’re a Boy Scout Leader, and those boys are Boy Scouts. They are your boys. And they aren’t wearing shoes.”

As a respectful person, I said, “yes, ma’am. I’ll take care of it”. So, I went to advise the boys. When confronted, they chose to take off their outfits instead of wearing shoes with the outfits. And, like is typically done in Indian Communities across the US, I paid for their mistake. I put money on the drum and made a contribution to the host organization. That was mazaska out of my pocket for boys I did not know. Because in the Indian Community, all Boy Scouts are ‘My Boys’.

One of the boys, took the lesson seriously. He has gone on to sing on various southern drums across the country. He’s welcome wherever he goes, now. And he understands that respect is not a once-in-a-while thing. It’s constant and on-going.

Here’s the truly shameful part, though. One of the boys, I have never seen again. Not at any scout function, not at any Indian function. We failed a boy that weekend. That is a fact I am ashamed of to this day.

How can we prevent this? We need to all spread the word. We all need to understand we are each of us equally responsible for the respect we are trying to portray, the traditions we are taking part of, and the outfits that have been made for us to use.

We all have to realize that our Scout ceremonies, the Pre-Ordeal, Ordeal, Brotherhood, Vigil, and all Call-outs and Arrow of Lights that we perform, are intended to be ‘historical re-enactments’ of a ceremony that was developed a long time ago. Much like a play, we can have some artistic license – the types of clothing we wear based on the tribe we attempt to represent, the time period we are attempting to represent, the number of people involved, and more. But, we need to understand some basics before we take complete license with the outfits.

Contrarily, the Lakota have specific outfits (with variations in decoration) for each of their sacred ceremonies, including but not limited to Sweat lodge, Vision Quests, Puberty, and Sun Dance. Yes, there are some of these ceremonies where a man may be shirtless, but these ceremonies are individual and not to impress others.

Our ceremonies need to impress the audience, and especially the candidates. And, although some of you boys may be perfect physical specimens, your being shirtless does not awe the observer, and may quite frankly make some uncomfortable. So, we need to take a cue from the various Tribal Delegation photos that were taken from the early 1800s into the early 1900s. The people who were meeting the President or Congressmen wanted to impress them, so they wore their finest outfits, replete with beadwork, quillwork, feathered headdresses and more.


So, let’s cover the rules set forth by the Order of the Arrow. This may be interesting to note for some of our Native friends as well. Among others, the rules are:
  • All ceremonialists must wear American Indian style dress and their current Order of the arrow sash, all principals should be of the same tribe, nation, or other historic group to blend with each other.
  • The use of face paint, endangered animal parts, wigs, or any type of U.S. flag are prohibited (see chapter 4, section conclave). Any display of disrespect, carelessness and/or gross inappropriateness for American Indian customs may be cause for disqualification of the team.
  • Appropriate undergarments shall be worn under outfits. Each participant must wear shorts for modesty. For safety reasons appropriate footwear should be worn.
  • The Boy Scouts of America policy regarding firearms and knives as stated in the Guide to Safe Scouting will be followed.
Safety Thoughts
  • Physical safety (keep all hands and feet inside the car at all times)
  • Footwear – at all times, even if they are workboots!
  • Fully clothed – at all times (that includes socks, undergarments, etc.!)
  • Fire safety – think ahead, don’t get burned
Youth Protection - barriers to abuse
  • The Guide to Safe Scouting page 1 (
  • Social Media – all photos will show up on social media somewhere
No shirt, no shoes? No ceremony
  • if complete outfits are not available, it may be time to reconsider having the ceremony or choose to wear complete Scout uniforms instead.


Now, here’s a reminder of what the Order’s Founder, E. Urner Goodman said on the subject:

“The American Indian has been many things to many people. To us, the Order of the Arrow, he is the symbol of nobility and freedom. This was true before the westward advance of the white Europeans. After this, however, he was all but exterminated from the continent and crowded onto government reservations.

Because the Order of the Arrow has borrowed the culture and crafts from the American Indian, we – as an Order – must maintain the highest standards of authenticity.”

- Dr. E. Urner Goodman, Order of the Arrow National Bulletin, Third Issue 1974


Native Americans are modest people, many men wear long sleeves at all times. Women at southern powwows wrap themselves in shawls in the arena and do not wear shorts or tanktops. If you wouldn’t wear something to church or your grandmother’s house because it could offend someone, don’t wear it to a Native American powwow or gathering. Do not add fur trim or store-bought fringe to anything without first researching whether or not it is appropriate to the item and/or outfit. And if an item of clothing looks like pajamas or hospital scrubs, it is pajamas – not a historically correct item. Southwest style patterns are right out prior to 1940, unless you are wearing a Navaho traditional dress or something similar. Big bold floral prints are great for Straight dancers today, but those probably weren’t invented until the 1930s or later. And keep in mind that certain colors were not invented until the 20th century, and shouldn’t be used in historical contexts – I’m talking to you pink and purple!

Remember Modesty first
  • Shawls - Ladies should not enter the arena in shorts or short skirts without wearing a shawl or blanket around themselves
  • Northern traditional dancers wear shorts and tall socks to cover most of their legs when dancing
  • No toes visible, no sandals, no bare feet
  • No tank tops, sports bras, bare torsos


Our ceremonies are native-American-flavored historical reenactments or dramatic retellings of the original ceremonies created 100 years ago – otherwise known as plays - and the actors playing a role as a chief, medicine man, guard, and guide to better tell that story. I know that in the documentation, our ceremonies are that, and the persons playing a role in the ceremony are not simply actors, but the embodiment of the ideals of Scouting and Native Culture. However, as actors in a play, they should wear headgear and outfits appropriate to the role they are portraying. We do no one any honor by wearing the outfit improperly. Are you doing honor to the Scouting program or to the uniform if you are not wearing it properly? Do you set a good example with the shirt on backward and the patches in the wrong place or upside down? Who are you honoring if you aren’t wearing Native American outfits right?
  • The OA/BSA ceremonies are not related in any way to native American ceremonies.
  • They are much like stage productions, or plays.
  • To be taken seriously, stage productions need to be historically accurate. An actor portraying Abe Lincoln, Julius Caesar, or Nelson Mandela would not wear cut-off shorts and combat boots. So, too, an actor would not portray Chief Joseph of Tecumseh or Red Cloud wearing clown costumes or togas.
  • Investing – to be taken seriously, maybe an investing should be done before each ceremony.

Outfits from the ground up

I was taught to get dressed from the feet up, so we’ll start with the feet.

Footwear - Do not perform in any ceremony or dance without shoes of some kind on. Plains-style hard-sole Moccasins would be ideal for both ceremonies and dance. But, even hiking boots, though not preferred, are better than nothing. Safety and Religious contexts are both equally vital to the explanation. We don’t want you to get injured, so wear shoes. From a spirituality context, many Native Americans believe the only persons ‘authorized’ to be shoeless in public dances or events, are those who have gone through the Sun Dance. This is a very spiritual ceremony, and because a Scout is Reverent, we should respect this tradition by wearing shoes, water socks, or moccasins of some variety.

Leggings – for any OA or Scout ceremony, from an Arrow of Light celebration to Vigil, the participant performing a role should have pants or leggings on. In dance context, the variety of leg coverings differs based on the style of dance. Follow the established outfit style and you will be fine.

Aprons – Historically, breechcloths, or breechclouts, were worn, before the incorporation of pants and undergarments. But, by today’s standards, breechcloths are not necessary, when an apron will do. These need to be appropriate to the historic tribal outfit or dance style, decorated appropriately, and should avoid stereotype an unauthentic pitfalls
Undergarments – seriously, no one wants to see your backside. Wear shorts and t-shirts under everything. Be Prepared and bring them with you. Do not perform ceremonies or dance without a shirt. From a Youth Protection standpoint, this is common sense. From a safety standpoint this is fairly sensible.

Belt – everyone needs to hold their pants up – this includes leggings, aprons, belt pouches, sheaths, and more. A belt on top of the rest is decorative, but can carry belt pouches and decorative sheaths. I wouldn’t use a beaded or concho belt for holding up your leggings or aprons, though.

Decorative items like breastplates or bandoliers – once again, the tribe and time period, or dance style will determine whether these are worn. I was taught Northern Traditional dancers wear one bandolier that hangs from the left shoulder, and crosses the body to the right hip. Today, Southern Traditional dancers wear two bandoliers that cross the body. Does a straight dancer wear a breastplate and German silver pectoral plate? Sometimes. Does a ceremonialist wear that same outfit? Possibly – depending on the tribal influences for the outfit. Research is key, here.

Neckwear – this could be some form of choker, neckerchiefs, beaded amulets or medallions, German silver slides, breastplates, loop-necklaces, or other combinations or variations. Be careful, there are tribal influences here that can be problematic. For example, the Kiowa do not believe in wearing a bearclaw necklace, but other tribes use it as a sign of accomplishments.

Headdresses – this is important – not every Indian wears a feather bonnet! In fact, very few historically or currently, actually wear these headdresses. Usually, each feather represents some accomplishment or deed that helped the tribe, clan, family, etc. in some way. In modern dance, the roach is the most common item worn, and is fairly accurate for more ceremonial roles, depending on the tribe and time period again – a 21” roach isn’t appropriate for the Comanche or Huron from the early 1800s, but it is definitely appropriate for most dance styles today. Among most southern tribes, the use of an otter turban is relegated to tribal or organization leaders, but others wore them as trophies taken from enemies. And for the love of all that is crunchy and salty, not every ‘Medicine Man’ wore buffalo horn headdresses! Please research this subject. There are many different headdresses throughout North America – from Oneida gustowehs to Haida frontlets.
I could go on ad nauseum about this, but will leave with this one last thought – a Scout is Courteous, Kind, and Reverent (among other points). If at any point you think someone could take offense with something you are doing, you definitely need to rethink what you are doing. If it feels wrong, it very well could be.
  • “Both feathers and face paint have purpose and often spiritual significance depending on tribal protocol and individual interpretation. In Native cultures, both feathers and face paint are earned through actions and deeds that bring honor to both tribes and nations.” — Dennis Zotigh, Cultural Specialist, NMAI
  • Symbol of leadership and sacrifice – analogous of purple heart or nobel peace prize
  • Plains tribes use eagle feathers, anything less than a representation of that is insulting – rooster, turkey, parrot feathers
  • Colors should be traditional, not contemporary – red, white, yellow, black, blue vs. orange, pink, green, purple
  • Proper placement – Browbands are called that because they sit on your brow, not your bangs
Facepaint or makeup – there are reasons that Native Americans wore facepaint. From the earliest days of red ochre, which coined the term that begat the name for the football team in Washington DC, to the death masks of the plains tribes, to the paint worn in coming-of-age ceremonies across the US, each iteration of paint on faces meant something, and likely still does. The Order of the Arrow has more than suggested that facepaint is not allowed above the Lodge level – it is not part of the traditions of the OA, in fact. But, each lodge, with permission of local tribes can use facepaint where appropriate. The problem is this – it isn’t appropriate any longer, especially without historical context or proven research. Facepaint was used in warfare as often as not, but not for meetings among tribe leaders. It was used to distinguish one warrior among others on the battlefield, but not to hide the face in personal settings. It was used to denote accomplishments in some tribes, and also, it was worn on a daily basis in some tribes until a certain point in time, at least. But, for our ceremony purposes, facepaint obscures the face as much as a mask does, and masks are forbidden. Communication is as much visual as it is oral, so hiding the face or obscuring it takes away from the ability of the observer to fully understand those visual cues. Facepaint, when done properly, can make a dancer look amazing and intimidating, but our ceremonies are not meant to be scary, intimidating, or obfuscating. And the use of emblems and logos and inaccurate historical or tribal designs, just offends people, no matter how respectful you intend to be.

“Oh! That’s cool!”
No! But, also yes, sometimes...
  • Unless the historical accuracy of the item is the reason you believe it is ‘cool’, do not go down this path for ceremonies outfits
  • For dance outfits, we Boy Scouts are not innovators, we are participators. Do not innovate or create new items for dance outfits until you have seen many examples of that item already
  • Research, research, research – do not just assume you are correct, just because your lodge, chapter, or group has ‘always done it that way’. Many traditions have begun out of ignorance and have continued because of a lack of research.

Fine Lines
  • “We’re borrowing a culture. We either borrow it correctly or we don’t borrow it at all.” – Pat Collins, Vigil Honor, Colonneh Lodge
  • "We grow up romanticizing native culture, native art, native history ... without knowing native reality," - Shailene Woodley, star of “Divergent”
  • “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better” - Maya Angelou
  • “When people of one culture meet those of another, it helps if both know what behavior is acceptable, which words will smooth communication and which should be avoided.” - Suzanne Walson, “Sharing a Heritage,” Scouting, Nov-Dec 1997
  • “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.” – St. Ambrose

“No shirt, no shoes? No ceremony.” is the mantra I developed as a reminder to our youth that if you don't have an appropriate shirt or shoes to wear, we shouldn't be doing the ceremony. This extends to other pieces as well, and certainly includes the whole fire safety, be prepared, and so on. But, it’s sinking in. It’s been a few years since I last saw a ceremony performed by shirtless or legging-less boys. And even the most stalwart survivalist among our youth, who has the toughest feet, has conceded hiking boots are better for ceremonies use than wearing nothing on the feet.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Southern Powwow Flag Protocol

Recently, I have been asked by numerous folks when I planned on posting again.  My answer was, I hadn’t had anything that jumped out at me – until now (and it's been a busy year).  I’m going to talk about Powwow Grand Entries for a bit and explain a little about Flag Protocol and Veteran Protocol.  I invite comments and feedback on this subject.  In fact, I encourage it. 

I will preface this by saying the vast majority of my experience is Southern Protocol powwows, even though I started as a Northern (bustle) dancer.  Southern Protocol powwows are those influenced by tribes of the southern plains – Comanche, Kiowa, Ponca, Alabama-Coushatta, and so many more.  In my life, I have been to many powwows across the US (California, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas, Louisiana, Michigan, Indiana, and Kansas).  All of them southern protocol, by the way.  I have been fortunate to be part of the Grand Entry carrying the flags of different States, Tribal and Powwow Organizations, Military, and even the US Flag on many occasions, as well.  I have been Head Man, Head Veteran, MC, and Arena Director at a few dances, too. 

I live in Texas - the shortest drive to get out of the state is two hours.  Travel opportunities further north or east just haven’t been feasible for the most part.  One of these days, I will get to Crow Fair, Ft. Washakie, Denver March, and maybe even a dance or two up in Canada, if they’ll allow a foreigner (i.e., Texan) that far north. 

But, the following seems to be standard for southern protocol powwows.

Grand Entry Dancer Order (southern protocol)
·         Flags & Veterans
·         Head Staff
·         Visiting Princesses
·         Straight Dancers
·         Northern Traditional Dancers (includes Crow style, Chicken, round bustle, and a few others)
·         Grass Dancers
·         Fancy Feather Dancers
·         Southern Ladies (cloth & buckskin)
·         Northern Ladies (cloth & buckskin)
·         Jingle
·         Fancy Shawl
·         The order repeats for the children at this point.  But, small children often accompany a parent, enter with the appropriate group of adults, or possibly even just enter in very little order because they are children. 

Occasionally, we will see a dancer in an outfit that doesn’t quite fit into one of those categories, for example, dancers dressed in traditional Cherokee, Seminole, Haida, or Iroquois clothes (to name only a few).  It’s up to the AD and/or the dancer’s experience to determine where they line up in the Grand Entry.  Most often, I’ve seen them in the Northern Traditional section, actually.

Grand Entry Song Order
·         Grand Entry song
·         Flag Song – for those of you not in the know, this is equivalent to the National Anthem, and all appropriate honors and recognitions should be followed here.  All other flags in the procession should dip in honor of the US Flag and the US Flag should be held straight up and/or elevated above the others.
·         Prayer and/or Memorial song or a suitably appropriate prayer or somber song
·         Victory song or Veterans song – veterans dance the flags out of the arena, usually passing around the entire arena once and then posting the flags in the appropriate locations at the MC stand.

Caveat: the MC, AD, or Head Singer can preempt certain songs or change the order slightly at their discretion, based on need, time, or other reasons.

Direction of dancing
I was taught when I was young, and have had reiterated to me many, many, many times, we enter from the East when coming into the arena.  This is where the sun comes from, it is where life comes from, and the powwow arena, much like the war dance circle, is intended to represent the inside of a lodge or tipi.  Environmental factors dictated why tipis faced east predominantly – prevailing winds, storms, etc.  I was also taught the lodge’s entrance was to face east so the sun would wake the person who slept in the most respected position in the lodge.  I am sure there are many other reasons for lodges facing east.  

The important point is the powwow arena represents those lodges and should be entered from the East to represent that.  When entering a lodge, you pass to your left and move around the center, or, as a Kiowa gentleman once told me “move sunwise”.  I am aware that there are tribal influences that dictate a different direction of travel in the arena.  But, again, I am speaking specifically of the Southern protocol powwows I have experienced.  I’ve said before, and heard it again recently, “when in Rome, do as the Romans” – which means, if the protocol is to ‘move sunwise’, whether it is your tradition or not, you go with the prevailing protocol, unless the MC or AD states otherwise.

It is also my experience that the MC stand/stage should be opposite the entrance.  My understanding is that when the Head Staff stands in front of the MC for their Specials, it is because they are representing the Headsmen and Leaders of the tribe (in this case, the event or organization).  The position of respect in the lodge is opposite the entrance.  So this is why the MC stand, out of respect to - and a bit of convenience for - those persons, the MC stand should be opposite the entrance to the arena.

US Flag Code
The Us Flag Code is only part of a much larger US Code.  It describes the design of the flag, how to respect the flag properly, and so much more.  I highly encourage all readers to read the US Flag code.  It is written in legalese, so some of the writing takes re-reading a few times to grasp fully.  But, this Code dictates the manner in which we respect our flag.  It is important.

Section 175 – Position and Manner of Display
“The flag, when carried in a procession with another flag or flags, should be either on the marching right; that is, the flag's own right, or, if there is a line of other flags, in front of the center of that line.”
Subsection c, states, among other things: “No other flag or pennant should be placed above or, if on the same level, to the right of the flag of the United States of America, except during church services conducted by naval chaplains at sea, when the church pennant may be flown above the flag during church services for the personnel of the Navy.”
Subsection k – “When used on a speaker's platform, the flag, if displayed flat, should be displayed above and behind the speaker. When displayed from a staff in a church or public auditorium, the flag of the United States of America should hold the position of superior prominence, in advance of the audience, and in the position of honor at the clergyman's or speaker's right as he faces the audience. Any other flag so displayed should be placed on the left of the clergyman or speaker or to the right of the audience.”

Section 176 – Respect for the flag“No disrespect should be shown to the flag of the United States of America; the flag should not be dipped to any person or thing. Regimental colors, State flags, and organization or institutional flags are to be dipped as a mark of honor.”
Subsection c – “The flag should never be carried flat or horizontally, but always aloft and free.“

The US Flag Code can be found on several websites. Here are some for reference:

Additional Considerations
That covers the basics, but there is more - from a tradition standpoint - to think about.  Most of the powwows I have been to have had the flags carried in by veterans in single- or double-file.  In this case, and according to the US Flag Code, the US Flag should lead the way.  Sometimes it can be accompanied by the Indian Flag, or Eagle Staff, but should be preeminent in the procession.

If you have ever seen the flag patches on US Military uniforms, they appear to be backward, according to the Code above.  But, in fact, they are representing the flag blowing in the breeze (For more information on Army Regulation 670-1,  I was once told that this is to represent the many battles this flag has endured and been carried into.  The flag should be waving, not stationary, and certainly not cased (or held down and not allowed to fly), when being brought into the dance arena. 

The US Flag and other flags are traditionally carried by veterans, whether they saw combat or not.  Other veterans escort the US Flag into the arena during the Grand Entry, acting as an honor guard or color guard.  They dance behind the flag-bearers, stand to when the flag is stationary, salute when appropriate (see Us Flag code for manner of proper saluting – veterans under arms or while wearing a cover are allowed to use a military salute instead of the hand over the heart), and escort the flag to its post, dancing it out of the arena.  I have seen some groups who dance in the POW/MIA flag, but move opposite the direction the other dancers take.  Again, this is not my training, but I can find nothing in any protocol related to carrying that particular flag, so I cannot speak to this in more depth.

Normally, during Grand Entry the flags enter the arena, pass in front of the MC stand, pass by the entrance again, and then stop facing East from in front of the MC stand but near the center of the arena, allowing all other dancers time to enter the arena during the Grand Entry.  This means they have made one-and-a-half circuits of the arena.  In especially large dances, the number of circuits can be extended, if necessary.  When the Victory or Veterans song is sung, those dancers carrying and guarding the US Flag dance one circuit around the arena and head toward the MC Stand where the flags are posted – US flag on the MC’s right (audience’s left) and all other flags and standards on the MC’s left (audience’s right).  I will admit that usually when an Eagle Staff is carried in, it is usually posted near the US Flag, but still in accordance with the Flag Code (meaning to the US Flag’s left, or closer to the center of the MC’s stand).

Sometimes a specific Color Guard – college ROTC cadets, VFW, American Legion, or some other civic or military honor group - will provide four or more individuals in appropriate uniforms (or ‘under arms’) and accoutrements (covers, gloves, rifles, etc.) to march the flag into the arena.  Much like at a sporting event, they will march to their own cadence, and call their own orders for presenting the colors properly.  On several occasions, I have seen the veterans organize themselves enough to carry the flags into the arena in this manner, as well.  At the AD’s discretion, the remaining veterans dance to where the flags are displayed and line up on both sides of the Color Guard, or they can dance separately - leading the procession, or they can dance with their respective dance styles.

Of course, with all things involving the arena, the AD (Arena Director) has the final say.  Some of us vets are a bit hard-headed and will not want to leave our Colors behind, though.  “Never let the flag fall, and never leave a man behind” are mottos almost all of us can get behind.  But, there should remain a respect for the position of Arena Director, even then.  He’s just trying to keep the dance orderly and moving – I’ve been there, I get it.  So, a polite discussion can be had, but if the AD says ‘do it my way’, do it his way.

What do the other dancers do during the Grand Entry Veterans song?
This is a little tricky.  But, ‘when in Rome…’.  Here’s what I have seen most often.  When the veterans are dancing out the flags, all other dancers dance in place.  In recent years, I have seen a plethora of people raising their fans or dance sticks when the flag passes by.  I cannot speak to the reasons for this, because it was not how I was taught ‘lo those many years ago. 

What should everyone else be doing Grand Entry?
Out of respect for the flags and the veterans or Color Guards carrying the flags, and the Head Staff following them into the arena, it is asked that all who are able stand for the duration of the Grand Entry.  Usually, the MC will address this over the microphone, so those who are unaware can be made aware.  Once the flags have been posted, the dancing kicks off with Round Dances or other intertribal dancing, as the Organization and/or Head Staff has deemed appropriate.  At this point, the audience can take a seat – again the MC should notify the audience of this, as well. 

Veterans songs at the end of the Powwow
At many southern powwows, near the end of the evening, right before the final prayer or closing song, one or two Veterans Songs may be sung.  The MC should announce what the protocol would be in this case.  For instance, he may ask that the first song be for veterans only, and the second for their families or anyone who has a loved one in the service.  I was told when I was younger, and practiced this until I joined the military, that non-servicemembers or non-veterans were supposed to take off any headwear they had on during these veterans particular songs.  I don’t recall the reasons for this, though, having been lost to the annals of time.  But, one can imagine this is out of respect for those veterans on the dance floor.  One might even suppose that because the roach was once a warrior’s headdress, those not affiliated with the military should not wear them during those final veterans songs, if they choose to dance.  You could even think that by taking off the roach and dancing, you are recognizing your association to another warrior or veteran.  I honestly do not recall the whys and wherefores associated with that teaching, however.  I just know I respected the men who taught me, and they taught me not to wear the roach during those songs – until I became a veteran myself.

Follow up
I’d like to know if Northern protocol powwows are vastly different in scope, scale, direction, or method of approach to those of southern powwows.  Please let me know if you have any questions, or insight into what I have written.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

What a difference a decade makes

I once told a person who asked why I was involved in Boy Scouting since I have three beautiful, intelligent, and strong daughters.  I told them, among other things, I was involved because I wanted to help raise a generation of boys who were worthy of my daughters!  It’s true.  I think the world of my girls, the way I think the world of ‘my boys’.  But, I want this generation to understand that another person’s culture is as important to them as the house they live in, the church they attend, and the school colors they sport – and sometimes they are all the same.  Once we get to get a glimpse into another person’s culture, we can begin to open up our minds, see different horizons, walk a mile in another person’s moccasins, and be open to the ideas, thoughts, ideals, beliefs, and cultures of the many and varied people we will meet in our lifetimes.

We learn it is not just OK to learn about other cultures, but that doing so broadens our own outlook.  And, though we are changed in just the smallest way with every exposure to someone else’s way of thinking, it doesn’t change who we are fundamentally.  It allows us to see the world through another’s eyes, but it doesn’t change the color of our own eyes. 
I have been blessed in my life to be invited, welcomed, and accepted among the Natives I know.  I’m not Comanche, but I have some friends who have named me Comanche.  My Indian grandfathers, one Comanche and the other Kiowa welcomed me, invited me, fed me, put me in my first clothes.  Some others invited me to events I would never have gone to on my own without their permission.  I’ve been told I was more Indian than most Indians.  Yeah, me.  The Scots-Irish guy with blonde hair and blue eyes, who probably would never have gotten involved had it not been for a Kiowa man putting me in my first outfit. 

So, I’ve been blessed to be accepted in a lot of places.  That doesn’t make me an expert by any means.  But, it does mean that my respect for the culture, the people, the music, and the dance is accepted and returned.  I’m not perfect.  I make mistakes.  I’ve paid for some of those mistakes, and I’ve even had others pay for some mistakes and correct me later.  I’ve been privy to events and discussions that would not have been possible otherwise.  And I have said, and continue to say, ‘you learn something new every day’.  And I do.  I go out of my way to learn, daily.  I go out of my way to engage in conversation with people more experienced in various subjects than I.  It’s how I learn best.

But, because I had good teachers, family, friends, I’ve been able to turn around and ‘pay it forward’.  I am giving back to a community that has given me so much.  And because of my respect for the people, I want others to avoid simple mistakes of etiquette.  I want boys to learn the right ways in the circle.  To learn the pitfalls that so many people make on a daily basis.  To use a filter before doing or saying anything that might offend.

Ten years ago, I was a Chapter Advisor in the Order of the Arrow.  That means I was responsible for a portion of the membership of our Lodge, in this case we were running close to 200 people.  That, by the way, is larger than many Lodges in the nation.  But, I was doing a pretty decent job.  Our chapter had been recognized by the lodge as Pacesetters in service and activity within the lodge – we’d earned Honor Chapter for more than 10 years in a row.  They even created a new award for Chapters who had accomplished this feat for 5+ years in a row.  All very good.

But, there was a darker side to the story, unfortunately.  I’d previously been the Lodge’s Dance Team Advisor, trying in vain to get the dancing and singing programs off the ground.  I wasn’t alone by any means.  Many of us had worked diligently on this project.  But, attrition occurs – feelings get hurt, people get tired of banging their heads into a wall, people decide there are other aspects of their lives that need to take priority, or just simply get tired.  We’d had good years – 2004 was phenomenal! – thanks to some wonderful young men who really made my job easy.  Even though I was not the Dance Team Advisor, I was still active in the dance program.  Many of those years, it felt like I was alone in trying to promote a program the leadership seemed to be dead-set against for some reason.  Like I said, many of the adults who guided the program had previously walked away.  It was tough, but I kept plugging away.  Some call it perseverance, some call it stubbornness, some call it mule-headedness.  But…

In 2013-2014, I almost walked away myself.  I had lost my job, I had a daughter in High School, another on the cheer squad in Junior High, another in Elementary School, and a Nephew and Niece living with us as well.  We were involved in so many other activities!  It seemed it was time to focus on my family instead of other peoples’ families.  I had even taken the position of Vice Chairman of the Texas Indian Hobbyist Association (TIHA), because no one else was able to at the time.  This kept me very busy – part Statesman, part Salesman, all around businessman.  But, it felt like I was being pulled away from Scouting.  And I told my friends and family this.  Many people understood, most didn’t want to see me leave or even allow me to ‘step back a bit’.  It’s been our experience that when adults do this, they are leaving – slowly drifting away.

But, my wife – Creator bless her! – convinced me to stay with it.  Despite the fact she’d been a ‘Scouting widow’ for several years, she had seen me struggle and fight to establish a successful program.   She’d been in my corner from the get-go.  She had encouraged me when I was flailing, trying to find a direction.  She’d been the one who said ‘go’, when I really should have stayed to help her.  This woman, the light of my life, told me in no uncertain words, “if you leave, you will regret it the rest of your life” and “you’ve fought so hard, don’t give up”.  She reminded me how hard I had fought just to get where we were, how many people we’d had an impact on, how many adults we had begun to get involved so I was not doing all the work, how many boys who were smiling after dancing their hearts out.  She kept reminding me until I felt like a heel for thinking of leaving the program at all.  And then she pointed out, “you made a difference for that one”, pointing at a boy who had just joined the OA the year before, went to NOAC, and got in the Top 3 in one of the dance categories.  You know who you are.

So, I stayed, and kept banging my head on that wall.  Until it happened - a brick moved.  At first, I wasn’t sure.  Maybe I’d become delirious from the constant head-banging.  But, I banged again, and it moved some more.  I banged again and the brick fell out of that wall!  I could see through the other side.  The grass wasn’t any greener, but the sky looked clearer.  Individual conversations had occurred, not just by me, but by others who were also helping.  It seems we finally convinced them our dance program wasn’t taking away from the overall program, but was in fact adding to the overall.  The Leadership of our Lodge allowed us to continue dancing, singing, and teaching.  They let us have fun.  They didn’t say ‘no’, when the boys asked to work on a project.  Then the boys kept plugging away, building outfits, coming up with ideas for dance demos at various events. 

A couple of years ago, we dancers and singers had the major portion of the Lodge’s involvement with a Council-wide event.  We put on dance performances for close to 7,000 people – from pre-school age to grandparents.  And we had a good time! 

Not to mention I have some young men who are incredible dancers.  We took them to NOAC in 2015, and we had many of them from our program in the top 20, two in the top 10 in different categories.  You should have heard me yelling like some kind of Southern Football Parent from the stands!  I kept coaching through the dances, giving pointers, calming the fears of the parents there, biting my nails.  It was awesome.  And though we didn’t get any Top 3 places, our guys walked away feeling accomplished, smiling, making good friends and better memories.  They make this easy to continue.  They make the hard work worth it.  They keep me going.

I’m still plugging away, being the salesman I need to be – or the cheerleader the program needs.  Sometimes, I’m the bad guy, letting people know there are better ways, more respectful ways, less offensive ways to do what they are doing.  But, the greatest part is that more adults are helping, and even better, more boys want to dance or sing - or both!  They want to understand more about the Native American community and culture.  And they are doing so with respect.  This past Lodge Powwow, a couple of weeks ago, had the highest turnout of dancers and singers we have had since 2003!  Fully ¼ of the attendees were either sitting around the drum or dancing around it.  We had such a good time, and we spread the word to others, infected some folks – young and old – with the desire to dance or sing in the Native American way. 

Last night I was given another award.  The fourth such for me personally in the last ten years.  The first of which was to be recognized to keep the Vigil in 2008/2009.  That was a shock.  I know it’s not an award.  But, you can see what I mean.  I’d been in the Order since 1984.  25 Years later I kept my Vigil.  Then the District Award of Merit for my service to the District and Scouting in 2010 – mostly for my work as Chapter Advisor, Webelos Transition Coordinator, and Native American programs advisor.  In 2012, it was the Phil Paul Service Award - another award from the Lodge for adult arrowmen who were youth in the same lodge.  This is the Big Deal Award for adults in out Lodge.  And then, last night I was presented the Outstanding Service as an Adult Arrowman award from our lodge.  For service in the Native Programs area almost exclusively.  A friend said, “it’s about time” only because he had been awarded it the year before.  Another friend also said, “what a difference a decade makes”. 

Ten years ago, I was getting tired, worn out, looking for other avenues to pursue helping young men become great leaders.  Ten years ago, I was only on the fringe of our Native program because I was otherwise occupied, but I kept at it.  Ten years ago, I never felt that Vigil, the District Award of Merit, or any other award was in my future.  And to be honest, it isn’t about the awards.  It is certainly nice to be recognized for good, hard work!  But, it’s never been about me getting and receiving.  What I do is about continuing a living legacy that men like Frank Knickerbocker, Gen. Fred Haynes, Sam Gratke, Barry Hardin, Bob Hooks, George Alford, Bill Lollar, and so many others helped found in our lodge, in our hearts.  It’s more about some young man who is all grown up, coming back in 20 years to continue teaching where I left off.  Paying it forward.  Helping other young men learn the right and respectful, and reverent ways of participating in another culture.  Then I will know I made a difference for that one.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

I was reminded

Something interesting happened to me today.

But, first, what led up to this.  I was asked about 6 weeks ago to give a presentation about Native American culture at a Boy Scout Troop meeting.  I conferred with the young man a couple of times about what he wanted from the demonstration.  I wanted to make sure how long the presentation needed to be, what it needed to cover, and who my audience was going to be.  I even spoke with the Scoutmaster regarding the presentation to make sure he and the boy were on the same page, and that I fully understood what they wanted from me.

Last night I made the presentation.  It wasn’t my smoothest of presentations.  First my introductory video didn’t work immediately.  Technical difficulties.  We didn’t really have much time to test the facilities with my equipment beforehand.  But, after about ten minutes the video finally worked.  But, by that time, I had already switched over to ‘old school’ mode. 

I’d begun with an introduction of myself, who I was to the audience, and why I’d been asked to visit.  I’d talked about where they might have seen me before, and some of them actually already knew me.  Volunteers are always helpful.  Once that was done I moved into the different styles of dance, and that is when the video began working again.  So, we watched about 2 minutes of a 22-minute video of Fancy Dancers tearing it up during an ‘iron-man’ or ‘last man standing’ competition. 

After that, I explained where modern powwows come from, including information on Buffalo Bill Cody and other Wild West shows of that era.  It turns out, none of the youth in the room, from 11-18 had even heard of Bill Cody!  So, I had to give them some explanation of who he was so they could understand the ramifications of what he had done.  I talked about George Custer and the Battle of the Little Bighorn (“Greasy Grass”).  I talked about how quickly the reservation period enveloped the Lakota after that point.  And I talked about how the dance styles developed from that point on.

That is about when I lost my train of thought.  I had parts of three different dance styles laid out, and I talked about where you could obtain pieces and tried to explain the differences they might see among the styles.  But, between the video and having to give a much more in-depth history than I’d planned, I’d lost my original intent.  I kept looking back to the boy who kept giving the sign to keep going, so I kept talking, rambling a bit about the outfit pieces, leather leggings versus blanket leggings, deer-toe armbands versus silverwork, etc. 

And then I tried to make a final point about learning other peoples’ cultures, being open to new ideas and ways of experiencing events.  I mentioned that just learning a little about someone else’s point of view will open up more opportunities for them in the future when they meet new people whether in college, military, or the workforce.  About that point I’d been talking for 45 minutes.  So, I handed it back over to the boy, who had everyone applaud my presentation.  Then he handed it over to the Scoutmaster who did the same thing.  And I began packing my stuff up.

The best part was when I had two boys begin asking me questions like, “how expensive is this?”, “is it easy to do?”, and the best question ever: “How can I get started doing this?”.  I had the fortune of being at a troop where several other members are dancers, so I was able to refer a lot of the questions to some of the more experienced dancers in the room, and thus help stir a dialog between the boys in the troop who know, and the boys in the troop who want to know.

But, the best part happened today.  I was at my desk, when my phone rang.  The person calling is my boss, so I thought he’d be handing me another assignment or task for the day.  But, he thanked me.  He thanked me for coming out the night before and giving such a thorough presentation.  You see, my boss also happens to be the scoutmaster at that troop.  But, the fact was he went out of his way to thank me again for being there for his troop and helping educate them on current affairs and historical relevance of the Native communities I am familiar with.  Keep in mind, he didn’t have to thank me – he’d already done that the previous evening.  But, to take the extra step of calling me and thanking me, made me feel very appreciated.  It is one piece of the puzzle that a lot of people miss – including me! – when working with others.  A simple show of appreciation makes a huge difference.  Whether it is just a ‘thank you’ in passing or a larger presentation about the appreciation, or something in between, simply reaching out personally, extending the hand, and saying ‘thank you for what you did’ can make someone’s day, or week, or month maybe. 

Some people don’t feel appreciated, but they work hard every day.  Some people don’t realize how appreciated they are for what they do.  Civil servants like the Police, Firefighters, EMTs, Medical staff; and others like Civic leaders, Ministers, and even Scoutmasters often do not get thanked for what they do.  More often we tend to take them for granted and assume they will be there when we need them.  And sometimes we abuse them when we perceive a mistake.  We are all human, and sometimes we just need to be told that what we do is appreciated.  

I hadn’t realized how appreciated I am for what I do for the boys.  I was reminded of that today, and it makes me feel good.  

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

If you build it, they will come. Won’t they?

I’ve had a lot of conversations lately with many different people about the Native Programs, and other various programs in the Order of the Arrow and within our Lodge and Section.  For years, I have witnessed the belief or philosophy ‘if it’s on the calendar, that’s enough notice’. 

The problem is, it isn’t enough.  Just because you know it is an event you should attend, doesn’t mean the rest of the lodge does.  Just because you’ve been going to said event for 15+ years doesn’t mean the event is known to new members.  And Just because you mentioned said event in a new member orientation at 9pm doesn’t mean those same new members will have any recollection of those announcements.

So, how to we rectify this issue?

A very wise man - my mentor, one of my Chapter Advisors, a Lodge Advisor, a former Lodge Chief, and all-around good guy – once told me the following magical phrase while I was trying to drum up attendance for the 1988 NOAC trip to Powell, WY:

                "Advertise, Advertise, Advertise"

Wait.  That’s it?  Advertise, advertise, advertise?  You may think that isn’t so magical.  But, I’m here to tell you, it is. 

But, why?  Well, no one in Scouting advertises anymore.  We apparently believe that ‘if you build it, they will come’.  This goes from pinewood derby relays to Jamborees.  The advertising is word-of-mouth, at best.  There may be websites where information can be obtained about those larger events.  But, who is talking about them?  Who is driving recruiting and attendance?  Who – or what - is driving desire for the event?  And how are they learning more and helping drive interest in that event or program?

I recently started working for an advertising company.  In the year I have been here I have learned one vital thing – if you don’t advertise your product no one will know about it.  Or, at the very least, your brand will fall out of public knowledge in a short time.  Of course, I don’t mean that scout events need Highway Billboards, national ad campaigns, and social media sweeps.  But, if you want people to come to your event, why aren’t you advertising?

It’s simple.  Flyers, tri-fold boards, announcements at every meal at Lodge events, announcements at every lodge Executive meeting, Facebook posts, and updates to the lodge website will help immensely! 

But, the even simpler – and probably better – option is to just reach out your hand, introduce yourself, and invite someone personally to the event.  A personal touch will go a LONG way to encouraging someone to attend.

I leaned something else once – if there aren’t people getting sick of hearing from you about this event, you aren’t reaching enough people.  Let me rephrase that: if you are not aggravating at least someone with your advertising, you are not getting the word out enough.  Think of the advertising on late-night television – Billy Mays Hayes, Sham-wow, Oxy-clean.  At first there is some notoriety about those products, and then after a time, there is a bit of annoyance at seeing the ads.  That’s because the advertiser wants to make sure their product is visible by as many people as possible.  There is a car dealership in my locale whose ads my children despise, because the owner is on the TV almost constantly.  But, he is driving business.  He is getting his name and brand in front of thousands of customers a day, and they are going to him to purchase vehicles.  Aggravated or not, he is getting people to his location to buy his products. 

Another advantage to getting the word out often and continuously?  After a while, those same people who have heard your spiel a dozen times can begin advertising for you – reciting the spiel by memory.

Now, here’s the real secret.  This is hush-hush, so keep it to yourself.  Then, you ask that person to help you will a small task at that event.  I mean s-m-All, small.  Ask them if they would help judge a dance contest – no experience necessary.  Ask them to help ensure water gets to the ceremony sites (notice I didn’t say they had to take the water, just ensure it was delivered – oversight).  Ask them to help a boy lead by just being his backup for the day, whether as an elangomat, or as a registration advisor – the boy can do the work, but we need someone to assist in the event he is overwhelmed or needs guidance, or helping in the Trading Post from 1-2pm.  Anyone can do anything for a short amount of time.  Right?  Once they realize their obligation is small, and they were successful at it, they will realize what fun they had and volunteer for the next event.  And then THEY advertise (or advocate!) for you!

I was the lodge’s Dance Team Advisor more than a decade ago.  I had a great salesman in the team’s youth lead.  He was charismatic, personable, friendly, and loved to dance.  He was the best sales pitch a product could hope for.  With his drive, and some guidance, and the backing of some very interested adults, we were able to get dance team participation up from nearly nothing to over 50 dancers at the next lodge dance we had.  And that same event had over 400 attendees, before we stopped counting!  We did this by visiting the various chapters and showing a video and talking about dance styles, and doing the same at lodge events, and talking about our plans at LEC meetings, and so on.  We advertised what we wanted to do, and people got excited.  It took having that ‘cheerleader’ up front continually telling people about what was going on and how we could use their help to have more fun.  We took a Native Dancing and Music program of 13 people in 2000 to more than 60 people in 5 years.  Better than 300% improvement in 5 years.  Because we advertised.

I will tell you this, it works.  It takes time, you don’t see changes overnight.  But, we need to think of our events and programs as sales opportunities.  If you want more sales, you have to encourage people to buy, no matter how good a product is or how long it has been on the market.  Coca Cola has been around for over 100 years, and they have spots on nightly TV, print ads, and more.  We can learn something from that. 

If you build it they may come.  But, if you want growth, you must advertise, advertise, advertise.  

Wednesday, June 15, 2016


In 2001, I made a conscious decision to re-join scouting as an adult. I didn't know exactly why at the time. I knew that I missed some of the opportunities, of course.  Camping, hiking, the outdoors in general. But, I was kind of floating at the time.  Not really a true purpose in my life at that moment. 
Sure, I have daughters, and have a good purpose in raising them. And the joy and pride in being their parent, I cannot put to words.  But, I was lacking something.  Once I joined Scouting again, I found camaraderie & brotherhood which I’d not experienced since my time in the military.  But camaraderie wasn’t it alone.  I started working with youth, which us incredibly rewarding. Entertaining – so many funny stories! - but really rewarding.  Just like parenting, really.  But, that wasn’t it, either.  Paying back to the program that taught me so much, was a good notion.  But was that why I was there?

Why was I doing this?  What was my purpose in this? Did I have something to prove? Did I need to be there?

Over the years I've heard or said great words. “I'm here for the boys.”  “I'm here to pay forward what I learned as a boy.”  “You remind me of my son” (who had passed just before I returned). “You deserve to have earned your eagle”.  “I'm helping raise a generation of boys who are worthy of my daughters.”  All valuable and extremely valid reasons. I’ve learned that my failure to earn Eagle, no matter the reason, has been an example to young men – a ‘don’t be like me’ kind of example, but still useful.

But, it wasn't until 2007 when it truly sank in.  I stood at a funeral, eulogizing a young man killed way too young.  I told a story about a man throwing starfish back into the sea. He was criticized, being told he couldn't make a difference for all of them.  And he responds stating as he threw another back, ‘I made a difference for that one’.

But at that funeral, standing there in front of more than 100 people in this tiny chapel, standing room only, I admitted to everyone that there are young men in this world who have made a difference in my life.

I know there were adult leaders in my life who must have felt the same way about the boys they worked with.  I know it is impossible that there aren’t.  I know that everyone has their own reasons for being involved.  I will honestly admit, my family's pride in what I do drives me more than anything else. And my family's long history in this program keeps me going.

But moments like last Saturday night make the difference.

I never made eagle.  Politics.  But I am a Vigil Honor member of the Order of the Arrow. I've been awarded the District Award of Merit. My lodge bestowed on me the Phil Paul award, given for service as adults to men who were youths in the lodge program. I've earned several Philanthropy Awards at companies for whom I've worked. One year, the boys even voted to give me an award for the ‘most valuable player’ at our annual lodge powwow!  I've been praised for what I do. But that Saturday night was a shock.

The singing group I am part of was asked to sing a couple of songs for an Eagle ceremony.  We’ve known the family for years, the new Eagle Scout is one of our Lodge’s dancers, and the family dances and sings with us whenever they are able.  At his first NOAC dance competition, the boy achieved 6th place in the Nation in Grass Dance – in part due to the coaching he received from a lot of adult advisors in our area, but mostly because of talent. 

So, there we sat, getting prepped for a song we sing specifically for Eagle Scouts, watching patiently as they call up family members for pins, and putting his neckerchief on.  This troop uses the same ceremony for each Eagle scout court of honor – they have a lighted tree with the different ranks displayed, and a presentation of flags and honors.  And the singing bit was thrown in because of the boy’s love of dancing and his involvement with us.

Around the drum, we’d just been talking that I would never earn awards like the Silver Beaver, because I am not involved in a troop.  My grandfather earned one, my wife’s grandfather earned one.  But, I keep my Scouting involvement at the District and Lodge level mostly – I have specific talents that others do not, so it keeps me in that niche, if you will.  And I realized a good friend of mine, who had been a Scoumaster for years and assistant SM for many more, had never received that award either.  So, there isn’t a chance in a million that such an award would be bestowed upon me. 

But, then my name was called over the PA.  Like tends to happen, I had sort of lost track of what was going on in the ceremony.  The boys had on their blue neckerchiefs, the parents had sat down, and the boys were handed something.  And then it hit me like a freight train.  The boys were calling people to recognize them with an Eagle Mentor’s pin. 


Heart in my throat. 

Cold sweat. 

He just wanted my help in recognizing someone else – that in itself would be an honor – right?

But, no.  I had to sneak out past the drum, and everyone around it was smiling at me.  That didn’t help. 

My allergies chose a few minutes before the ceremony to begin acting up.  So, eyes watering, I approached the stage where the others stood.  And those men were all smiling at me as well.  Maybe they knew.  Maybe they understood my reaction already.  These men were Scoutmasters, troop leaders, men who had a direct and lasting impact on the boys’ lives on a daily basis.  Not like me.  I can’t be put in the same category as them, I don’t do the same stuff.

Or do I?

I stood there, tears – caused by allergies, I might add – in my eyes, as the boy almost gingerly pinned this tiny golden recognition on my uniform.  I shook his hand and gave him a big hug, and thanked him for the wonderful surprise.  And tried not to let a tear drop – damn allergies! 

And then it was time to sit down.  I very carefully did not look at my family until I was headed back toward them.  My wife sat there beaming.  Yes, beaming!  Her beautiful smile as big as the sun, her pride more than evident.  My daughters with their mothers’ smile plastered to their faces as well.  The guys at the drum, some of my closest friends, all smiling as well.  The allergies wouldn’t be beaten so easily, it seemed.  It was a good thing I was in the corner, as I quietly wiped my eyes. 

I won’t lie, allergies weren’t the only thing at play here.  I can take pride in what I do.  I know that what I do, I do to the best of my ability.  But, it’s when others take pride in what I have done - not for their own sake, but because they truly believe in what I do and love when I am recognized for it – that’s when it punches me in the solar plexus, makes it difficult to breathe, and yes, hold back tears.  I can’t explain it.  My family understands without saying anything.  And I think that is one of the reasons their pride in me is harder for me to fathom.

But, I am humbled.  Earning awards is fantastic.  It isn’t why I am here, doing what I do.  But, it is definitely nice to be recognized.  But, by that same token, being recognized is humbling.  Truly Humbling, with a capital H.  I don’t know that I am worthy of that recognition.  But, I will try to live up to it.  Every time I put on the uniform I will see that pin and remember why I am here, doing what I do.

I made a difference for that one.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

We Are All The Same

I once learned of a philosophy while I was in the military.  It’s not something that is talked about a great deal.  But, the basic premise of the philosophy is this: “the public’s perception of a population is defined by 10% or less of that population”.  This means that what you and I know about a group of people is setup for us by less than 10% of that group of people.  

For example, a number of years ago the US Marine Corps had a bad public image.  It’s not because of the Marines, or the Department of Defense, or the Department of the Navy, or because of recruiting or anything like that.  It was because of ignorant buffoons doing stupid stuff that got themselves in the media.  This gave the public the impression that Marines were all mean, ill-tempered, drunk, abusive, and unfit for society.  

As a Marine myself, I have to admit we are mean (when it comes to warfare and each other), sometimes ill-tempered, and the US Marine Corps was founded in a tavern, so drunk often applies as well(that is something I believe the vast majority of Marines will agree to and wholeheartedly embrace).  But, very few of us, very few indeed, are abusive spouses.  And fewer still are 'unfit for society'.

But that doesn’t stop the media or the court of public opinion from lumping Marines into the general ‘@$$hat’ category because of the actions of a few.  Like I said, the small percentage of this group who are known for this behavior make a bad public image for the rest of us.  Despite the commercials of the clean-cut, sharply uniformed individuals on the Silent Drill Team, the amazing battle service record, or the Toys for Tots campaign that annually receives millions of donations a year to give to children in need.

So.  What does that have to do with the title?  I’m using the story above to point out that the Marines, and other groups’ or populations’ public impressions are not defined by the whole of the organization, but by a few or small percentage of that group.  So it is with Boy Scouts of America.

We who work in Scouting, whether as volunteers or professionals, each often do hundreds of Service Hours annually.  We serve in churches, community centers, local parks, schools, and many more places.  In 2013, there were 3,615,306 youth and adult scouts in the United States.  Let’s assume each of those scouts only did 10 hours of community service that year.  That’s nearly 37 Million service hours!  And that’s only if every scout averages 10 hours a year.  I know personally, I am putting closer to 100 hours myself every year.  Is that broadcast by national media?  Does BSA get recognized for being the largest service organization in the USA?  Or does non-inclusiveness mar BSA’s public perception?  Or is there something else that seems to be a large sticking point for the public?

We Scouts and Scouters also know there are many different portions of the Scouting program.  Tiger Cubs, Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts, Varsity Teams, Venture Crews, Explorer Posts, individual units, Districts, Areas, Regions, Lodges, Sections, National programs, Summer camp Programs, winter camp programs, and more.  But, to the average observer, all of these different points of input are all ‘Boy Scouts’.

Therein lies the problem I specified in my previous post. 

Say 10%, or 361,530, of those Scouts define the public’s perception of the Boy Scouts.  Which 10% will it be.  With the availability and ease of posting photos on the internet, we compound any potential problems as well. 

For example, Joe Cubmaster, the leader of 50 boys ranging in age from 6-11, wants to impress the boys with stories from a book he read about a noted Native American.  So, to make the story come alive more to the boys, he wraps himself in a serape or blanket, dabs a little paint on his face, and dons a dime-store headdress with green, purple, and orange feathers while portraying a character in the story.  Now, the boys know he isn’t ‘an Indian’ – he’s Cubmaster Joe.  Joe knows he is not trying to represent anyone or anything in any kind of poor light – he was just trying to help the boys see the story come to life better.  He meant no disrespect, the boys saw no disrespect.  But, then Sally, Joe’s wife, wants to share how impressed the boys were with her friends on Facebook.  And one of her friends shared one of those photos of Joe to another group who has nothing to do with the Pack, but is aware Joe exists in the world.  And one of those people shows the photo to another, and eventually this photo is shared on Pinterest, Imgur, Reddit, or some other web service that shares such things.  And suddenly Joe’s image is a meme plastered across the internet with thousands of views, laughed at, defended, complained about, derided, scorned, or used as ‘proof’ that Boy Scouts are disrespecting Native American culture.

Now, let’s change that story up.  A scout unit or camp program was founded 50 years ago.  The gentleman who started the program, we’ll call him Fred Campmaster, was well respected by everyone in his community for being generous, understanding, accepting, and educated.  He had friends in every ethnic community in the area and elsewhere, he was invited to dinners, and was taught everything there was to know about those cultures.  These folks offered him help in incorporating some of their ideals and cultural differences into a camp program he wanted to start.  Graciously he accepted and they set about teaching and learning everything they could about each other’s culture and how to best invigorate this fledgling program with those high ideals and traditions.  Now, however, 50 years later, the outfits that were once accepted due to many variables - like rural locale, available funding, lack of complete cultural understanding, lack of availability of documentation, hindsight, etc. – are no longer even remotely appropriate.  But, the group involved maintains they are just perpetuating the program that was presented 50 years ago, and it helps get boys to the camp.  They don’t know they are perpetuating stereotypes, they aren’t aware the outfits are offensive, and some would say they may not care because of their desire to uphold their own traditions regardless of outcome.  And like the previous example, photos make their way to social media in a matter of moments.  And the ensuing problems occur again.

Now, John Scoutmaster, leads a small troop of 30 Boy Scouts, aged 11-18, along with several Adults as support.  He took his troop to that out-of-council camp where Fred Campmaster’s program is being run.  The boys fell in love with the program, and without oversight, brought it back to their troop program, several States away.  They run their program based on what they think the camp program intended, without further research or understanding.  But, they learned from someone who claimed it was authentic and reverent.  They didn’t intend to hurt anyone’s feelings, perpetuate stereotypes, or cause any difficulty.

Who’s at fault, though?  Who’s responsible?  Not the Cub Scout leader.  Not the Camp Director or the people who continue their program.  Not the Scoutmaster or the boys in his group.  Boy Scouts of America is responsible.  At least that is what Public Opinion says.  Despite what you or I might think or debate about this. 

And they aren’t wholly incorrect.  Certainly, research should be done by anyone involved.  And, true, these Scouts need to recognize that the outfits they are wearing don’t look anything like any photos of Native Americans taken since photography was invented.  And the local unit leaders should be aware that Disney or Hollywood movies are not wholly accurate, and if the outfits the boys use look anything like a Disney movie, they shouldn’t be used.  And certainly, when confronted by those of us who have some experience in this context, they should accept constructive criticism and understand we are only trying to protect the boys from harm.

But, ultimately, the Cub Scout leader is not singled out for his portrayal, the Camp director is not singled out for his inaccuracies, and the Scout leader is not singled out for perpetuating stereotypes.  Boy Scouts of America is blamed for their failings.  And Boy Scouts of America is responsible for the fallout.  And if confronted, each and every one of us who wear a uniform will be held accountable by the people who are offended by these incidents.

Now, I can safely say there are many Boy Scout instructors or advisors who are active in modern Native American culture, who are respected for what they do, and are accepted among their Native American friends and communities.  But, the approximately 400 people (note, I do not have cold data to support an exact number) spread across all 50 States who have had any significant training on the varied subjects related to Native American cultures, are simply too small a number. 

So, let’s be generous and say 1,000 adults in the entire BSA program have a decent amount of education about, experience with, or involvement in the Native Cultures of the USA.  A little quick figuring determines that each of those 1,000 are ‘responsible’ for educating 3,615 others.  It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize that is simply impossible.  Each of those 1,000 can do their individual best in bringing information to the 3.6 Million other Scouts in the US.  But, it will not be enough. 

I don’t want to sound defeatist.  But, the numbers are against us.  How do we counter that?  We get buy-in from larger programs that affect more scouts than you or I can individually.  Summer Camp programs have to modernize and accept that their traditions reinforce stereotypes, and that needs to change.  ALL Scout leaders (no matter the level or type of unit) should receive training that focuses on diversity, stereotypes, and how to avoid them, right along with the Youth Protection training they are required to have annually.  And those groups who insist on continuing their out-of-date, stereotype-prone, or offensive programs should receive immediate attention to correct the problems. 

And why should we do this?  Because if we don’t, we run the risk of losing any program related to any Native American culture – the Order of the Arrow, Dance Troupes like the Koshare and Kwahadi dancers, Summer Camp programs like Mic-O-Say, and likely more – no matter who approved or validated them initially, or how old the program is, or how effective it is at bring kids together, or how many Native tribal leaders may approve of the program.  It took over 20 years for the University of Illinois to get rid of their parody of a Siouxan Chieftain, called ‘Chief Illiniwek’.  And the school was 'given the right' in the long-distant past.  But, times change and the use of the image & character didn't.  And, they were eventually forced to get rid of the half-time dances, the cheerleader in the facepaint, the use of the beadwork on that same outfit, and the logo because ALL were offensive to Native Americans.  And the tide is turning on that Washington team, too.  Eventually all instances of these team mascots will be removed and repaired.

But, more importantly, we should change our approach because it is the right thing to do.  It's time to be the change.

We are all the same, and must be culpable for the entirety of the BSA’s Native American programs.  After all, the public opinion, especially the Native American opinion, is that we are already responsible for these different programs.  The small percentage of Boy Scouts who are unaware they are dressing inappropriately have defined a public perception that the Boy Scouts of America are 'playing Indian'.  In that public perception of the programs of the BSA we are all the same.