The Order of the Arrow is a recognized 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. The Order of the Arrow is the Honor Society of Scouting. It was founded in 1915, just seven years after Robert Baden-Powell started scouting in Great Britain. It is a uniquely American “honor society of scouting”.
E. Urner Goodman was a scoutmaster who worked as director of the Philadelphia scout council’s camp. Goodman wanted a way to teach scouts that there was more to scouting than skill proficiency. He wanted to see that the principles embodied in the Scout Oath and Law should become realities in the lives of scouts. Goodman and the Assistant Camp Director Carroll A. Edson researched the lore and language of the Delaware Indians who had lived in the area of the camp. They also combined characters from James Fenimore Cooper’s “Last of the Mohicans” to develop dramatic induction ceremonies for the Order of the Arrow, as the new honor society was named.
Today, these rites still 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. Initially, the OA was viewed with suspicion by some Scouters as a secret society, if not an affront to the egalitarian ideas of scouting. 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”. The OA was not fully incorporated into the scouting program until 1948.
In 1998, the Order of the Arrow was recognized as Scouting’s National Honor Society when it expanded its reach beyond camping to include a greater focus on leadership development, membership extension, adventurous programming, and broader service to Scouting and the community. Today, its service, activities, adventures, and training for youth and adults are models of quality leadership development and programming that enrich, support, and help extend Scouting to America’s youth.
The OA has more than 180,000 members located in lodges affiliated with more than 300 BSA local councils.
Each local Boy Scout council is encouraged to have an Order of the Arrow lodge. The OA lodge helps the local council provide a quality Scouting program through recognition of Scouting spirit and performance, development of youth leadership and service, promotion of Scout camping and outdoor programs, and enhancement of membership tenure. It is unusual for a council not to have an OA lodge with its own Indian name and totem or emblem. OA helps older boys retain interest in scouting once they have reached high school age. 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 must be under age 21. The youth plan and implement Lodge activities, service projects, ceremonies, publications, budgets, and conduct troop elections as arranged with Scoutmasters. Many adults find participation in the OA to be rewarding. They are an important part of the OA’s success as advisors and resources, such as providing transportation and service project skills. They help to keep the spirit of brotherhood in scouting’s honor society.
The Order of the Arrow is celebrating its 100th anniversary in 2015.
This is some background information of how the lodge is structured within our council from the Order of the Arrow Guide for Officers and Advisers. The book is available as a PDF document at this link.
Our Vision for the Order of the Arrow
As Scouting’s National Honor Society, the Order of the Arrow is an integral part of the council’s program. Our service, activities, adventures, and training for youth and adults are models of quality leadership development and programming that enrich and help to extend Scouting to America’s youth.
For 100 years, their peers have honored those Scouts who “best exemplify the Scout Oath and Law in their daily lives” with membership in the Order of the Arrow. This recognition provides encouragement for others to live these ideals as well. We will provide ways and means for OA members to do more to assist their units and councils, and help them succeed in doing so.
In support of our vision as Scouting’s National Honor Society and an integral part of every council, the Order of the Arrow will further increase its service to Scouting.
The purpose of the Order of the Arrow is fourfold:
- To recognize those Scout campers who best exemplify the Scout Oath and Law in their daily lives and by such recognition cause other campers to conduct themselves in such a manner as to warrant recognition
- To develop and maintain camping traditions and spirit
- To promote Scout camping, which reaches its greatest effectiveness as a part of the unit’s camping program, both year-round and in the summer camp, as directed by the local council’s camping committee
- To crystallize the Scout habit of helpfulness into a life purpose of leadership in cheerful service to others
To become a member, a youth must be a registered member of a Boy Scout troop or Varsity Scout team and hold First Class rank. The youth must have experienced 15 days and nights of Boy Scout camping during the two-year period prior to the election. The 15 days and nights must include one, but no more than one, long-term camp consisting of six consecutive days and five nights of resident camping, approved and under the auspices and standards of the Boy Scouts of America. The balance of the camping must be overnight, weekend, or other short-term camps. Following approval by the Scoutmaster or Varsity team Coach, Scouts are elected to seek membership in the Order by their fellow unit members. Then, after completing an Ordeal experience, they become members of the Order of the Arrow.
Adult selection is based on the ability to perform the necessary functions to help the Order fulfill its purpose, and is not for recognition. Selected adult Scouters must be an asset to the Order because of demonstrated abilities and provide a positive role model for the youth members of the lodge.
The induction process, called the Ordeal, is the first step toward full membership in the Order. During the experience, candidates maintain silence, work on camp improvement projects, and sleep apart from other campers. The candidate is expected to use this time to strengthen his involvement in the unit and encourage Scout camping.
After 10 months of service as an Ordeal member and after fulfilling certain requirements, a member may take part in the Brotherhood ceremony, which places further emphasis on the ideals of Scouting and the Order. Completion of this ceremony signifies full membership in the Order.
After two years of service as a Brotherhood member, and with the approval of the National Order of the Arrow Committee, a Scout or Scouter may be recognized with the Vigil Honor for outstanding service to Scouting, his lodge, and the community. This honor is bestowed by special selection and is limited to one person for every 50 members registered with the lodge each year.
An Order of the Arrow section consists of lodges within a geographic area of the region. Once every year, representatives of lodges in the section come together for a conclave to share in fellowship, program ideas, skills, and training. In addition, the section creates a monitoring/mentoring relationship with its lodges, provides
leadership development opportunities, fosters understanding and adherence to national OA policies and procedures, and coordinates OA administrative and program functions. The section Key Three leadership consists of the Section Chief, Section Adviser, and Section Staff Adviser.
The Region Chief is a youth leader elected annually by the Section Chiefs in his region. This election is held in conjunction with called meetings of the Section Chiefs to elect the National Chief and Vice Chief, as well as to plan a national Order of the Arrow event.
The region Order of the Arrow Chairman is an adult appointed by the Region Director. The professional adviser for the region is an adult staff member assigned to the position by the Region Director. All three of the OA region leaders serve as members of the National Order of the Arrow Committee.
The National Chief and Vice Chief are Arrowmen elected to one-year terms by the Section Chiefs during the annual national planning meeting. They serve as members of the National Order of the Arrow Committee to provide the voice of the youth Arrowmen on national OA policy. They also serve as the presiding officers for the national OA event. They are advised in their responsibilities by the National Committee Chairman and National Director of the Order of the Arrow.
The National OA Committee Chairman is appointed by the Chairman of the National Boy Scout Committee. The professional adviser is the Director of the Order of the Arrow, a member of the national Boy Scout Division staff.