The House of Representatives passed H.R. 310 yesterday, a bill that would take a section of the Ouachita National Forest and transfer it over to the Indian Nations Council in Oklahoma. It looks, at first glance, like a victory for those who have been advocating Native American land rights. Sadly, that’s first impression couldn’t be further from the truth.
The Indian Nations Council is not a Native American group. It’s a chapter of the Boy Scouts of America. Almost all of its members are European Americans. The group mocks Native American groups by having its members dress up to play “Indians”. They organize themselves into groups with fake names like the Ta Tsu Hwa Lodge to make themselves sound Native American. They go to a camp at the edge of the Ouachita National Forest to hold membership “ordeal ceremonies” that mock real Native American rites.
Let’s pay attention to that camp, because it’s at the heart of the legislation passed yesterday, called the HALE Scouts Act. The legislation would take public land, which is supposed to be held in trust for all the people of the United States, and hand it over to the Boys Scouts of America Indian Nations Council for its private ownership and use. The Boy Scouts of America said that its ceremonies of imitations of Native Americans had become so popular with European-American families that their facility needed more room to hold all the people who wanted to participate. Yesterday, with the passage of H.R. 310, the lower house of Congress agreed to help them do just that.
U.S. Representative Dan Boren, a Republican from Oklahoma, commented, “Attendance has now exceeded the maximum number of available campsites and program areas, which is causing Camp Hale to begin turning away hundreds of scouts each summer. It is now critical for camp growth that the boundaries be extended.”
Imagine that a predominantly European-American organization set up a club in downtown Chicago in which children were taught to dress up in blackface and imitate African-Americans. Imagine that this group then asked Congress to help expand its facilities by giving it part of what had been public park. The equivalent of that is what happened yesterday, only instead of mocking African-Americans, the Boy Scouts of America are mocking Native Americans.
This kind of bigoted behavior isn’t new to the Boy Scouts of America. People who pay attention know that the Boy Scouts have a long history of discrimination against non-religious Americans and non-heterosexuals. A bit of racism added to the mix blends in very nicely.
The really sad part of this story is that not one member of the House of Representatives had the courage to vote against this bill. Only seven members of the House abstained from voting for H.R. 310, doing so by voting “present” instead of voting “aye”. These U.S. Representatives were: Tammy Baldwin, Barney Frank, Dennis Kucinich, George Miller, Peter Stark, Henry Waxman, and Lynn Woolsey. The rest of Congress wholeheartedly supported the bigotry demonstrated by this scouting, without a single speech of even mild concern.