Can We Have Ceremonies Without Misappropriation?

This is our definition of misappropriation of American Indian lore: (1) any false claim to a special association with the culture, as well as (2) anything religious. In addition, anything objectionable from some other religious perspective is inappropriate, even if not a misappropriation of American Indian culture.

The conjecture that these beliefs are no longer in practice is not a defense. We should respect past religious beliefs, not just those that are held by those we know. Furthermore, this conjecture is false. There are current believers.

We have identified only the following clear cases of misappropriation and religions objections in current ceremonies:

  • Both legends are false claims of special association with the Delaware Tribe. And thus are misappropriation.
  • The Brotherhood legend centers on a vision quest, which is an important characteristic of American Indian spiritual belief. It is an inappropriate use of American Indian spiritual ritual as egregious as the prayer pipe (mistakenly called peace pipe) rituals eliminated from OA tapouts about 50 years ago. Worse, it claims that our Order arose out of that invented vision quest.
  • Meteu is a medicine man, which is to say a shaman. A spiritual American Indian leader. And thus is misappropriation. He is no more appropriate than someone in Christian clerical garb. True, a Medicine Man has a role in physical healing, as well as spiritual roles. In recent years, the physical healing role has been emphasized in the OA to deal with this objection. But without a doubt, the term “Medicine Man” implies to us, and Native Americans, a spiritual role as well. And declaring the roles separate is itself an affront to American Indian belief, which does not hold that the physical and spiritual are separate.
  • Taking away the ceremonialist’s name to accept a mythical figure within is objectionable to some Christians. It reminds some of demonic possession. Incidentally, some of us believe that ideally ceremonialists will not be “acting”, but rather speaking from their hearts from the perspective of the Order’s Principle which they represent. Pretending to yourself to be the person you are “playing like an actor” is called “Method Acting”. And tends to encourage over-acting: the use of wide gestures and deep voices rather than sincerity.

We are not opposed to Indian lore in Scouting or the Order of the Arrow. By eliminating the above actual misappropriation, we hope that American Indian outfits, drumming, dancing, crafts, and study can continue to exist where lodges are actively involving American Indian experts in an ongoing process. We harm, not help, American Indians and their culture if we eliminate a significant group’s interest and involvement in that culture: the Order of the Arrow.


  • Reply
    Donne Strong
    November 23, 2023 at 2:48 pm

    Most cultures had 2 “medicine men” They weren’t always men, some were healers specializing with healing illness and injury, some were holy specializing with the spiritual. The spiritual was part of the healing, but all that was holy did not involve always involve physical healing

    • Reply
      November 25, 2023 at 12:01 pm

      Different tribes had different customs. There is little that can be said about all tribes without exception. And even less about all Medicine Men, as you pointed out. Certainly, it is incorrect to imply that all Medicine Men were (or are) equally both healers and spiritual leaders. Thank you for your insight.

      However, my point is that typical historic Native American physical healing was inherently spiritual in nature. It included prayer. And explicit religious rituals such as the burning of tobacco. American Indian spirituality includes the idea that healing has a spiritual side. So the attempt to define a native Medicine Man as a secular medical doctor is inconsistent with Native culture. Nor does Meteu appear to be (based on his words) a medical healer at all in our existing and historical ceremonies. I understand and appreciate the attempt to call him a medical doctor. It is an admission that we have an issue, and an attempt to address it without change. But a more complete solution that clarifies the actual role makes more sense to me.

      Where there is a genuine sense of misappropriation, it seems the better choice to discontinue it. The term “Sage” which is used in our current proposal fits the ceremonial words of Meteu as one who speaks wisdom.

      We went through a series of alternatives with this title. There is plenty of room for honest differences and preferences.

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