Mich. State students protest Boy Scouts for 'cultural appropriation'

Protesters criticized the organization's use of Native American symbols.

The protests were inspired by a letter-to-the-editor blasting the Scouts' honor society, Order of the Arrow.

Protesters met the Boys Scouts of America's (BSA) 2015 Order of the Arrow (OA) National Conference at Michigan State University earlier this month, claiming the OA appropriates Native American culture and accusing the Boy Scouts of being a racist organization.

The controversy over the OA event, which ran Aug. 3-8, started when a MSU doctoral student and Order of the Arrow member, Phillip Rice, wrote a letter-to-the-editor in The State News, criticizing the secretive rituals of the Order and alleging that they are cultural appropriation.

The letter-to-the-editor inspired a protest of the annual Boy Scout gathering that recognizes over 15,000 scouts who come together “from around the world to share ideas, learn from one another and, most importantly, experience an outstanding conference that is unlike any other event in Scouting.”

Rice claims that the “secret” induction ceremony that takes place involves a troop leader wearing a feathered headdress and another leader beating a “native” drum. Rice says he is disappointed that MSU allowed the use of its facilities and that MSU’s students were exposed to a group that promotes “flagrant cultural appropriation and borderline racism.”

After Rice’s letter, the Indigenous Graduate Student Collective (IGSC) decided to protest the NOAC’s use of teepees and headdresses according to Shelbi Meissner, an IGSC member. Meissner said that she feels “really offended that MSU would host a group like this without any regard for how it would make a lot of students and faculty feel."

Meissner also criticized Michigan State for “profiting off of this appropriation and exploitation of Native American culture.”

In addition to holding signs and voicing their discontent, protesters painted a rock to express their disdain for the imagery that the Scouts use and the organization’s alleged cultural appropriation.

The Order of the Arrow “has recognized Scouts and Scouters who best exemplify the Scout Oath and Law in their daily lives” for the past 90 years and is considered the BSA’s honor society.

In response to Rice’s criticism and the protest, an MSU spokesperson said that “we are merely a venue” and that although they welcome many different groups and that a group’s presence “doesn’t mean that MSU does or does not support everything that group stands for or does.”

The Boys Scouts of America did not respond to a request for comment in time for publication.

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @Geedelman