Sharing Cultures, Celebrating Differences
By Cindy Ross
At the annual American Indian Scouting seminar, the Comanche Nation hosted youth and adults who had gathered to learn about traditions, foster pride, and promote Scouting.
The drumbeats vibrated through the audience like the pulse of a gigantic heart, igniting listeners with their energy. Around the drums, 13 members of the Comanche Nation sang as they maintained the beat.
Gathered around them was an audience ranging from tribal elders to youngsters, male and female, dressed in buckskin, feathers, blankets, beads, furs, and fancy shawls with fringes. They rose slowly and begin to bob gently.
One by one they began to dance. The elders were first (with one older woman pushing her wheelchair for stability as she moved in rhythm to the drumbeats), followed by the rest.
They were performing the pow wow dance to honor veterans, from Comanche warriors of old (known as the "Lords of the Plains") to those currently active as soldiers in the Middle East conflict.
The occasion was the 49th American Indian Boy Scouting/Girl Scouting Seminar. Sponsored by the American Indian Scouting Association (AISA), the annual event was held last July at Cameron University in Lawton, Okla., and hosted by the Comanche Nation. Most participants were Scouts and leaders from all parts of the United States.
The American Indian Scouting Association is an organization of more than 150 tribes and nations that has supported this unique five-day gathering of Scouts and leaders for nearly half a century.
A host tribe or nation welcomes not just leaders and Scouts from troops whose members are mostly American Indians, but Scouts and leaders of every background to the Saturday through Wednesday event, a joint venture of the Boy Scouts of America and the Girl Scouts of the USA.
AISA and the seminar have four basic purposes:
The seminar is usually held at a university or college campus and includes a visit to the nearby hosting tribe or nation, with participation in a traditional pow wow.
At the 2006 event, days included workshops on varied topics such as tepee building, beadwork, language, history, herbal remedies, shawl making, and games. Evenings were filled with dancing, an ice cream social, a hand-game tournament, a parade of traditional clothing, and a banquet.
"Coming to the seminar helps us to think about who we are as a people and what we have," observed Warren Logan, a 19-year-old Northern Arapaho from Riverton, Wyo. "It encourages us to learn more about our tribe's history and culture."
"We take the information we learn here back to our kids, so they can use it in their daily lives," added Marye Osborn, a Cherokee and committee member for Ship 294 in Jamul, Calif. "The members of the [AISA] are like one big family. We keep in touch by e-mail, and knowing each other helps us to understand that we aren't alone in our culture."
The Scouts from Troop 905, Cherokee, N.C., are regular participants in AISA seminars. (They began to raise money for next year's seminar as soon as they returned home.)
"It is their favorite thing to do all year," said Scoutmaster Hugh Lambert. "They renew friendships, sometimes get to fly [to the location], and always travel to different parts of the country, something most of their families are not able to do."
The troop is located on a reservation, and its members are mostly from the Eastern Band of Cherokee, Lambert said.
"Very few of our Scouts ever get to go to another Indian community or reservation, and if they do, it's to visit family. So, without attending the seminar, they would know only one American Indian community other than their own.
"Sometimes it seems that the contribution of Indian people to the success of this society is forgotten or ignored, and this can affect a person's [feelings of] self-worth," he observed. Traveling and attending the seminar helps his Scouts "reconnect with their own culture and take more pride in themselves. It makes them better Americans."
A member of the Eastern Band of Cherokee, Lambert is the 2004 recipient of the AISA's Francis X. Guardipee Grey Wolf Award for distinguished service to American Indian youth (see "Recognizing Service and Achievement," below). As national AISA chairman-elect, he is responsible for coordinating this year's 50th anniversary seminar and will assume the organization's chairmanship in 2008.
The seminar's climax was the Tuesday evening banquet, which featured a Regalia, an exhibition of traditional American Indian clothing. Twenty-two adults and youth, all AISA members, paraded along a 40-foot runway to the recorded music of Native American flutist R. Carlos Nakai. They displayed clothing worn for various types of dances, and accessories such as fans of macaw feathers, foot-long beaded earrings, deer antler buttons, and turtle shell rattles.
The obvious pride that each person showed in displaying traditional tribal clothing was symbolic of the seminar's impact on its young participants.
"There is a phrase in Cherokee, 'hiding in plain sight,' that many American Indians practice; for some are not confident of their heritage," observed Lynda Osborn, a Cherokee and Scout leader from the San Diego-Imperial Council in San Diego, Calif.
"Coming to the seminar encourages us to be more vocal and outgoing about who we really are, to be proud of and not hide the fact that we are American Indian."
The 50th AISA seminar will be held from July 7 to 11 this year at East Central University in Ada, Okla.
Cindy Ross is a frequent contributor to Scouting magazine.
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