Order of the White Feather – Precursor to Camp’s Lodge Ceremony
By Judy Blase Woodruff
History – it defines the past and becomes the foundation for the present. It cannot be changed, but only built upon. One cannot disclaim what happened in the past, but acknowledge it and grow from it. One piece of our history included a depiction of Native American culture through our Lodge ceremonies. Lodge has certainly changed. Like all vibrant organizations, it has grown and evolved to meet the challenges and changing needs of the times.
Each Lodge member who has preceded us has had a hand in shaping and growing Lodge into what it is today. Past traditions should not be exalted or denigrated, yet accepted for what they are – the history and evolution of an organization we all love. This evolution has led Lodge officials to re-evaluate long-standing Lodge ceremony practices and create a more culturally sensitive ceremony.
After working to create Camp Ondessonk’s Archives Room several years ago, I ran across an interesting binder titled The Indian Order of the White Feather.
The binder holds the actual ceremony for the Order of the White Feather for the Four Rivers Council of Boy Scouts, along with the names of the administrators, Charter Members and Apprentice Members.
A portion of the forward in the binder reads:
The Indian Order of the White Feather originated June 14, 1952, at Camp Pakentuck under the direction of Mr. Elbert Johns, Field Executive, (and the names of the Camp Director, Assistance Director, and Program Director). Official approval for the Four Rivers Council’s Order of the White Feather was given by Scout Executive Roy C. Manchester.
Camp Pakentuck, an original site of the Shawnee Nation, would not have been a more fitting place for such an organization to begin. While the red feather symbolized bravery, war, and courage, the green symbolized friendship and peace. The white stood as a symbol, above all other colors, because it stands for ALL VIRTUE and everything that is good in a person.
The Indian Order of the White Feather, and its distinctive scarlet sash, are products of the Four Rivers Council, and hence only Scouts coming to Camp Pakentuck are eligible for membership.
We have reason to be proud of our organization, because it is ours, and in no other Council can Scouts join this organization and receive the scarlet sash.
The Boy Scout Order of the White Feather was based on a fictional Native American story about White Owl, the wise and good chief of a small Shawnee village in Southern Illinois. The ceremony centered on this story and included Native American dress, dance, and songs.
The story explains that White Owl asked for volunteers to warn other friendly villages of impending danger. Many of the braves in his tribe would not take on this duty until… Uncius, a young brave volunteered to offer himself as a messenger to other villages that there was impending danger from an enemy tribe. Because of him, other braves came forward and likewise offered to go through the enemy to warn their friends. Because of their unselfishness and willingness to serve others, all the villages were warned and the enemy was driven from their land.
The story goes on to say, As a symbol of their bravery and unselfishness toward others, the chief presented each of the messengers with a white feather and a place of honor in the village. The wearers of the white feather were closely united in their common bond of service to others. At the meetings of the tribes, the wearers of the white feather would preside and give the ceremonial dances.
Some of you will remember the words of Camp Ondessonk’s original Lodge of Ondessonk & Tekakwitha ceremonies. Those words were based on the words in the Order of the White Feather ceremony. Today, this order of the White Feather is still alive, and those Scouts who have shown themselves worthy by their example in keeping the oath and laws of the Scouts, and upon fulfillment of an ordeal in which their loyalty and helpfulness is strongly tested as the messengers of White Owl, they too are allowed into the company of the White Feather, and permitted to wear the symbol and to dance at the councils, keeping alive the spirit of the original members of the White Feather.
The ceremony also describes a Part Two or “second campfire” initiation for those who were selected to become members of the Order of the White Feather. New members of their order set out on a trail over which we have traveled to this point and has been traveled by many before us. To these new members who are about to be set aside and tested, we give this wish “May your moccasins make tracks in many snows yet to come.” The Spirit of Uncius, living in the runner, will initiate these new members on their journey which will take them from sunset to sunrise.
In addition, there was a service aspect to the initiation. The initiates were asked to complete three deeds of service without recognition. There was a point system for the deeds:
3 points for building shelter
3 points for building a bed of natural material
2 points for building a fire during the day and one during night
3 points for each service deed well done
4 points for one of the service deeds done exceptionally well
5 points for remaining unseen entirely
Minus 2 points for each time seen by others.
When the initiation was completed, the following statement was given by White Owl to those who successfully accomplished all tasks: By the power vested in me, I now present you with the Badge of the White Feather. The badge is to be worn over the right shoulder, feather pointing upward. Wear your badge proudly. The badge described was a scarlet sash with a white feather applied on it.
I invite you to stop by the Archives Room when it re-opens and take a moment to locate the white binder that includes most of the ceremony for the Order of the White Feather. You will recognize the precursor to Camp’s early Lodge ceremonies, with its many similarities.