Goodman and Edson were looking for ways to improve the camp and to keep the older boys coming back. They looked at several sources in creating their new 'camp fraternity', including:
Unami Lodge is the first and oldest OA lodge, formed in 1915 at Treasure Island in the Philadelphia Council (now the Cradle of Liberty Council). The council also had several other OA lodges in the early days, as the bylaws allowed each Scout camp within a first class council to have its own lodge. Unalachtigo Lodge, based on the Turkey Clan of the Delawares was soon established at Camp Biddle. After bylaw changes and camp closures, the other lodges were merged into Unami Lodge.
Originally known as Wimachtendienk, the organization was renamed to the Order of the Arrow in 1922 when it earned official recognition as an experimental program. A meeting of the National Lodge at the Owasippe Scout Reservation in 1933 voted to recommend that the BSA adopt the OA as part of its official program. The National Council established the Order of the Arrow as an official program in 1934 with full integration by 1948.
The OA is a program of the Boy Scouting division; youth members are elected only from Boy Scout troops and Varsity Scout teams. To be eligible for election, a Scout must be at least First Class rank, have fulfilled specified camping requirements, have the approval of his Scoutmaster or Varsity Coach and must be elected by the youth members of the troop or team. Most lodges or chapters support an election team to help hold the OA elections; it is charged to inform the unit of the service and duty required of Arrowmen.
Adults who had not previously joined the Order as a youth member may become members by being nominated by the unit, district or council committee and then approved by the lodge adult selection committee. Adults must meet the same criteria as youth except the rank requirement.
After being elected or nominated, candidates may participate in a call-out ceremony that may be performed at summer camp, a camporee, a call-out weekend or at a troop or team meeting. Candidates then participate in a weekend-long Ordeal induction ceremony. The Ordeal is intended to emphasize service and self-sacrifice; candidates maintain complete silence, sleep alone overnight, receive small amounts of food and will perform camp work projects. Candidates will then be welcomed as Ordeal members in a formal induction ceremony.
Ordeal members may seal their membership and become full members after ten months by demonstrating their knowledge of the traditions and obligations of the OA. They then participate in an induction ceremony and become Brotherhood members.
The Vigil Honor may be conferred upon Arrowmen who have completed a minimum of two years as a Brotherhood member and perform exceptional service above through leadership, exemplary efforts, or dedication. Selection is annual and is limited to one person for every 50 members of the lodge
The basic unit of the OA is the lodge, which is chartered to a local council. The lodge chief is the elected leader; a volunteer adult is appointed as the adviser and the council's Scout executive is the lead professional. The lodge chief is responsible for the program and general operation of the lodge. There may be additional youth officers such as one or more vice chiefs, a secretary, and a treasurer. Most lodges have standing committees responsible for ceremonies, service projects, publications, unit elections, camp promotions, and dance teams composed of youth members.
Most lodges divided into chapters, usually corresponding to districts within the council. The chapter is lead by the elected youth chapter chief; a volunteer adult is appointed as the adviser and the district executive the lead professional.
Lodges grouped into sections that are then grouped into areas and then regions with corresponding leadership. Area chiefs, region chiefs and the National chief are selected during an annual meeting. At the National level, the OA is headed by the National Order of the Arrow Committee, a subcommittee of the National Boy Scout Committee, of which the National chief, National vice-chief, and the four region chiefs are voting members.
The Greater St. Louis Area Council has two lodges as the result of a merger and the Greater New York Councils operate one lodge in each of the five boroughs. Two councils do not have lodges, but use their own honor society: Pony Express Council in Missouri with the Tribe of Mic-O-Say and Long Beach Area Council in California with the Tribe of Tahquitz.
The OA pocket device may also be worn suspended from the right pocket button. Vigil honor may be indicated by the wearing of the Vigil pin on the device ribbon. Lodge affiliation is indicated by the wear of the lodge emblem or flap, a patch worn on the right pocket flap of the uniform shirt. Each lodge flap has a unique design, generally reflecting the name, geography or history of the lodge. Many lodges had different flaps for members of each honor, but this practice was abolished in 2007. Special issues of flaps may be created to commemorate anniversaries and other events and are a popular item for those who engage in Scouting memorabilia collecting.
Arrowmen also exchange a special handshake as a token of brotherhood, along with other signs and passwords.
The OA song, (commonly referred to by its first line of lyrics as Firm Bound in Brotherhood) is titled Order of the Arrow Official Song and The Order of the Arrow Song in the printed music score of official BSA OA publications. It was written in 1921 by OA founder E. Urner Goodman to the Russian hymn tune God Save the Tsar!, composed by Alexei Lvov in the 19th century. Arrowmen customarily sing The Order of the Arrow Song a cappella in closing lodge ceremonies such as conclaves, and lodge and chapter meetings.
Awards are separate and distinct from the membership levels of Ordeal and Brotherhood. Awards available through the Order of the Arrow include: Vigil Honor, Founder's Award, Distinguished Service Award, Lifetime Achievement Award, Red Arrow Award, E. Urner Goodman Camping Award, E. Urner Goodman, Scholarship Fund, National Service Award.
Most lodges hold several annual events for the purpose of fellowship, inducting new members, service work and lodge administration. Lodges within a section gather annually for a conclave of similar activities including the election of section officers.
The OA sponsors service groups to the three National High Adventure Bases. This started with the Order of the Arrow Trail Crew at the Philmont Scout Ranch, which works to build new trails and repair old ones. Later this expanded to the Northern Tier National High Adventure Bases with the OA Wilderness Voyage, repairing the portage trails in the Boundary Waters area. Most recently, the OA began the Ocean Adventure at the Florida National High Adventure Sea Base in the Florida Keys, which offers scuba diving certification and works to repair reefs in the Florida Keys.
The OA fields a Service Corps for national Scout jamborees a major show and exhibit for The Outdoor Adventure Program.
As a youth-led organization, these national conferences are organized and directed by the elected section and region youth officers, who serve on committees responsible for various conference aspects under the leadership of the conference vice-chief. Events include training for programs, leadership and American Indian culture; competitions in athletics, ceremonies, cooking and American Indian dances; and exhibits on OA history, outdoor activities and camping. There are also opportunities to talk with national leaders, perform service work and trade patches. Evening shows have different themes, including American Indian culture and recognition of dance competition winners, presentations of awards including the OA Distinguished Service Award and other entertainment.
Philbreak is an alternative spring break program started in 2003 to help restore Philmont Scout Ranch after devastating forest fires. Since 2004, the participants have been working on the Urraca Trail, which is intended as a day hike for those attending the Philmont Training Center. Participants in the seven day program are expected to work eight or nine hour days in all types of conditions. The program takes place during three separate weeks during March. Participants also have an opportunity to take a ski break at Angel Fire.
In a new program of national service planned for June through August 2008, the OA is offering ArrowCorps5 to both youth and adult Arrowmen. Described as "one of the largest conservation efforts in Scouting's history" by the Boy Scouts of America, approximately 5,000 Arrowmen will converge on five national forests to work on various conservation projects such as building new trails and helping preserve nearly extinct species, as well as removing invasive species, in cooperation with the U.S. Forest Service. The five national forests are: Mark Twain National Forest, Manti-La Sal National Forest, George Washington and Jefferson National Forests, Shasta-Trinity National Forest and Bridger-Teton National Forest
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