At some point, your Scout may be nominated for membership in the Order of the Arrow. The Order of the Arrow is an official program activity of the Boy Scouts of America, intended to recognize those scouts who best exemplify the scout virtues of cheerful service, camping, and leadership.
To be inducted into the Order of the Arrow, a Scout must:
Founded in 1915, just seven years after the acclaimed English war hero Robert Baden-Powell started scouting in Great Britain, the Order of the Arrow is a uniquely American "honor society of scouting." The "OA's" origin and development are tightly intertwined, like a well-made square knot, with scouting itself in the United States. Its history is a remarkable saga of a good-hearted visionary's effect on many generations of youth.
The new scout movement was enjoying halcyon days in an America still at peace in 1915. Boys in the U.S. seemed to be donning scout uniforms everywhere as membership grew rapidly from coast to coast. E. Urner Goodman, then a 25 year old scoutmaster, had agreed to take the job of Camp Director at the Philadelphia scout council's camp perched on idyllic Treasure Island in the Delaware River. Deeply influenced by the war in Europe Urner's felt strongly that skill proficiency in Scoutcraft was not enough; rather, the principles embodied in the Scout Oath and Law should become realities in the lives of Scouts. As a means of accomplishing this, he launched an innovative program that summer based on peer recognition and the appeal of Indian lore. Troops would choose, at the conclusion of camp, those boys from among their number best exemplifying these traits, who would be honored as members of an Indian "lodge." Boys so acknowledged in the eyes of their fellow Scouts would form a fraternal bond joined together in a richly symbolic brotherhood.
Assistant Camp Director Carroll A. Edson helped Urner research the lore and language of the Delaware Indians who had once inhabited Treasure Island, which they combined with characters from James Fenimore Cooper's Last of the Mohicans, to develop dramatic induction ceremonies for the "Order of the Arrow," as the fledgling honor society was dubbed. Even today, these rites make a lasting impression on scouts who have been elected to the "Order of the Arrow."
By 1921, the idea had spread to a score of scout councils in the northeast and the first national meeting of the Order of the Arrow was held. Although the OA was initially viewed with suspicion by some Scouters as a secret society, Chief Scout Executive James E. West permitted those councils desiring Order of the Arrow lodges to establish them as an "experimental" program under a "National Lodge." Not until 1948 was E. Urner Goodman's innovation fully integrated into the Scouting program.
Having observed its Diamond Anniversary in 1990, membership in the Order had grown to 160,000 of the one million eligible Boy Scouts in the U. S., organized into almost 400 lodges nationwide. Rare indeed is the council today that does not have an Order of the Arrow lodge with its own Indian name and "totem," or emblem.
The OA helps in retaining older boys in Scouting, who otherwise often tend to lose interest upon reaching high school age. Notably, OA guidelines place great importance on preserving Lodge leadership in the hands of its youth members, headed by a Chief, Vice Chief(s), and an Executive Committee, all of whom must be under age 21, who plan and implement Lodge activities, service projects, ceremonies, publications, budgets, and conduct troop elections as arranged with Scoutmas ters. In larger councils, lodges are often sub-divided into chapters, with youth chapter officers and committeemen running chapter events. At the Section, Regional, and National levels, Chiefs and Vice-Chiefs are typically young men of college age, since Arrowmen are considered youth members until age 21.
Adults are crucial to the OA's success as advisors and resources, such as transportation, service project skills, and the like. Many adult Scouters find participation in the OA to be rewarding, as they help kindle anew the spirit of brotherhood in Scouting's honor society.
Each Scout troop may schedule an Order of the Arrow election once annually, usually in the fall. All registered active youth troop members have a vote, both current Arrowmen and non-Arrowmen. Membership selection is thus predominantly by non-members. Adult Scouters may also be proposed for membership in the Order of the Arrow by unit or district committees or the Lodge. Once selected, they, too, undergo the Ordeal and participate in the induction ceremonies.
To alleviate lingering concerns in some quarters regarding the ceremonial aspects of the Order of the Arrow, the BSA has officially stated:
"The induction is not a hazing or an initiation ceremony. The Order is not a secret Scout organization, and its ceremonies are open to any parent, Scout leader, or religious leader. There is an element of mystery in the ceremonies for the sake of its effect on the candidates. For this reason, ceremonies are not put on in public. The ceremonies have also been vetted through a number of religious and ethnic groups to ensure they are not objectionable to any group."
Following 10 months as an Ordeal member, the Arrowman may participate in the Brotherhood ceremony, which signifies the sealing of his membership and an additional emphasis on OA ideals and purposes.
After an additional 2 years have elapsed, exceptional OA leaders may be recognized by conferring of the "Vigil Honor." Generally speaking, only two percent of the Lodge membership may be selected each year for this highest of Lodge honors. A special ceremony, devised by Dr. Goodman in 1915 and closely based on ancient Indian traditions, culminates this experience.
Order of the Arrow members primary duty remains to their own troop, which elected them in the first place as a result of their cheerful service to their fellow unit members. OA Lodge activities are intended to supplement, and not replace, troop activities.
OA Lodges meet with other lodges in their sections each year and attend a nationwide gathering held on the campus of a major university every 2 years. These National Conferences, as they are called, feature individual and Lodge competitions in ceremonies, Indian dancing and costumes, and sports, along with seminars and gala arena shows. More than 6,000 Arrowmen attend, which for many is an exciting highlight of the scouting experience on a par with a National Jamboree.
For over a half century after founding the Order of the Arrow, E. Urner Goodman continued to be a towering figure in American Scouting, attaining a doctorate in education and becoming National Program Director of the BSA for many years, all the while steadfastly devoted to the OA. He enjoyed meeting Arrowmen at his Order of the Arrow "lodge" home in Vermont and continued to attend events held by Unami Lodge #1 in Philadelphia for the rest of his life.
The Order of the Arrow has made a significant contribution to Scouting in United States as we know it today and the OA's motto, "Brotherhood of Cheerful Service," is more than just a slogan for Arrowmen.