Seton's Image of the Indian and
Its Influence on the "Boy Scouts" and the 'Woodcraft League'

By: Claudette Maddan

After writing his novel Two Little Savages, Ernest Thompson Seton began conceptualizing his outdoor youth movement - the "League of the Woodcraft Indians". Many historians believe that this youth league greatly influenced the Boy Scouts of today.

What made Seton's book and Woodcraft movement ahead of their time was the fact that they showed the Indian as a role model for white children. This was an unusual depiction. Unlike most North American authors, Seton gave Aboriginals a voice, and negotiated their importance to culture through their lifestyle. He claimed that the Aboriginal way of life was superior to the White man's.

Seton's image of the Indian followed a philosophy which asserts "Indian civilization - is superior to white civilization because it was fundamentally spiritual" (Francis D., '92, P. 149).

Seton presents the Aboriginal person as engaging in the following.

Some Comparisons Between Aboriginals and Seton's group.

To a large extent, the image of the Aboriginal person which Seton promoted was the single most influencial idea which dominates the Boy Scouts. His ideas and suggestions were used to train children in the skills which Aboriginal people used in everyday life.

Some people believe that Seton was the true founder of the Boy Scouts, but many others disagree. Seton later complained that the war hero Baden-Powell, stole his scouting ideas. He later moved to New Mexico and built Seton Village.

Seton's image of the Indian unlike many others, was not for entertainment purposes. He portrayed the Aboriginal very close to his real image - one that is adapted to a unique culture.

While Seton's intentions were honest, many of his collegues had opposite viewpoints in the way he presented the Indian. In the first instance, like Seton's publisher, they agree that "there were too many Americans who think of Indians either as dirty or loafing degenerates, or as savages, to make the idea popular when they think of educating their children" (Anderson, '98, P. 156). Secondly, the Boy Scouts patterned a military model with uniforms and a kind of discipline that was not favoured by Seton.

Seton's ideas were recorded in The Birch Bark Roll. To this day many historians argue about the influence and the extent in which Seton and the Woodcraft League affected the Boy Scouts movement.

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