**Guest post from Jo Overton.
Jo is a 36 year convert to the LDS church, a feminist, a democrat, and an outspoken woman living in Utah. She is Native American, a wife of 35 years, a mother to 6, a former foster parent, a retired homebirth midwife, a former crunchy granola mom, an Adoptive mother and social worker.**
Let’s set some things straight, right from the beginning: I am Native American, I self identify as Native American, specifically as a member of the Sicangu Lakota tribe. You, Native or not, do not get to argue with me about this. Why do I say this? Surprisingly enough, there are people, in and out of Indian Country who want to decide who I say I am. It would take a long time to explain to anyone who doesn’t have a very extensive knowledge of Native issues.
I am a human being, worthy of regard and I am on my very own journey to becoming more fully me. I am not you, I am not every other Native American you have ever met or read about. Some opinions I held years ago, I no longer subscribe to, while others I hold even closer than before. It my right to do so. Holding me to an opinion I once believed in the past, today, serves neither of us in the current conversation. It will, however, give you a way to observe how I have changed and grown in my journey.
Because we are all individuals, you will find other people, both Native and not, who are in complete agreement with my views on cultural appropriation and boy scouts. Not surprisingly, you will also find others, Native and not, who completely disagree with my views. You do not get to say, ALL Natives feel this way or not on an issue. You can say, I read an article written by a Native American who feels “this way” about it. Or if we are actual friends, you are welcome to say, “my friend Jo, who is Native American, feels this way” I am not the Lorax, I do not speak for all the trees, nor all the Natives.
I hope you are in a place in your life where you can be respectful of what others hold to be sacred. If I were asked to remove my shoes to enter someone else’s sacred space, I would do so. Not with resentment, but with respect and a sense of awe of having been invited into that place.
It would take thousands of pages to write about EXACTLY why the cultural appropriation of the Boy Scouts is problematic. This is where words like genocide, manifest destiny, white privilege, and religious oppression are not just words, but life lived every day in a country that feels it owns you, and your identity. In 1978, Congress passed the American Indian Religious Freedom Act to protect and preserve the religious rights of the Native people in the United States. NOT 1878, 1978.
The complaints my people have about the boy scouts and Native American appropriation are almost completely religious in nature. Feathers, colors, head dresses, regalia, drums, Native dance, names, body painting, and eagles are all sacred to most of Native America. They are a direct connection to our history and our culture of today. The fact they even exist today is a testament to the courage and fortitude of our people in the face of cultural annihilation. The price paid by my ancestors and my family, for me to continue to participate, was and is with their blood and lives.
You can say, “but I do it with honor”, “I feel so connected to the Natives” ” I think it is fun”, “I want to”, “we have been doing it for 90+ years” ” I have friend who is Native who thinks it is fine”, “the church wouldn’t do something so racist” “we don’t mean anything bad when we do it” all you want, but it does not change the one thing that matters most.
When it comes to Boy Scouts and cultural appropriation of Native Americans, it is wrong.
What can you do? You can go along with the program, most people do, and there are just not enough Native American people to take this all on, and change it right this minute. We have tried and will continue to do so.
If you feel in your heart, you just can not go along in good conscience, there are so many things you can do. Start at home. Have a conversation with your children and family about why this is problematic. Ask them their opinions and get their suggestions about what you could do as an individual, family, troop, and ward. And then do it.
Refuse to go along with it. Encourage your child to not go along with it. Learn to speak up and then help your child speak up. Say it in scout trainings, in your ward meetings. Pull your child out of the activity. Set up an alternative activity and award to go along with with. Speak out, write letters, do what you feel you should. Let me warn you, some people will get very angry. This conversion to a more inclusive self is a painful journey. It is not easy one. Take a break when you need to, from discussions with others, when it becomes too hard. Continue on in your inner work. Most all, talk to your children and grandchildren. The change is within them, and when their hearts and minds change, the program will change to reflect this. Mitakuye Oyasin. (All my relations)