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by Ernest Thompson Seton


In the Woodcraft League the meetings of the Bands and Tribes are called Councils.   A weekly meeting would be called Regular Council, a meeting with a more elaborate program and with visitors is called Grand Council.  A meeting of the Guides and officers is called High Council. One at least of the Guides should familiarize himself with the running of the Council, as soon as possible.

When in camp three kinds of Council are held in the Woodcraft Council Ring:

1. The High Council of the Chiefs and Guides daily, and at other times when called, arranges programs.

2. The Regular or Common Council of all the campers every night from seven to nine o'clock.  At this we have some business (in the awarding of honors), some campfire stunts or challenges, and a little entertainment.

3. Grand Council.  This is usually held once a week. Every one comes in full Woodcraft regalia. Visitors are invited. Business except when very interesting, is dispensed with, and a program of sports and amusements, chiefly for the visitors, is carefully prepared. This is Strangers' Night" and they should be entertained, not bored.

The Meaning of the Council Ring

Why do we sit in a circle around the fire? That is an old story and a new one.

In the beginning, before men had fire, they were forced to sit up in the trees and shiver all night as they looked down at the shining eyes in the bushes below the eyes of fierce creatures ready to destroy them.

But fire, when it was found, enabled man to sit on the ground all night, for the brute beasts feared it and stayed afar. It afforded him protection, warmth, a place of meeting and comfort. All the good things that we think of when we say "home" belong to the place around the fire. And when man began to think of such matters, he accepted the fire as the Great Mystery. Still later, as he realized that the Sun was the Great Mystery by day, he reasoned that there could not be two great mysteries; therefore, the Invisible Cause behind these two must be the one Great Mystery; and in this was the first thought of true religion.

All of these things are deep in our nature, ground in through the ages as we sat about the fire of wood that was our nightly guardian in the forest. And all of these ancient thoughts and memories are played on, whether we realize it or not, when we gather in a circle about the Council Fire.

Then, too, a circle is the best way of seating a group. Each has his place and is so seated as to see everything and be seen by everybody. As a result each feels a very real part in the proceedings as they could not feel if there were corners in which one could hide. The circle is dignified and it is democratic. It was with this idea that King Arthur abolished the old-fashioned long table with two levels, one above the salt for the noble folk and one below for the common herd, and founded the Round Table. At his table all who were worthy to come were on the same level, were brothers, equal in dignity and responsibility; and each in honor bound to do his share. The result was a kindlier spirit, a sense of mutual dependence.

These are the thoughts in our Council Ring. These are among the reasons why our Council is always in a circle and if possible around the fire. The memory of those long-gone days is brought back again with their simple, reverent spirit, their sense of brotherhood, when we sit as our people used to sit about the fire and smell the wood smoke of Council.

Decorum of Council

In the Council no one may stand except on legitimate business. No one may cross or remain within the open space, except the Chief presiding, the members speaking or performing, and the Keeper of the Fire when attending to his duties. Nevertheless the Fire Keeper must not tend the fire at a time when it will interfere with any performance or distract attention at an important moment.

For assent or approval, we say "How"; for "No" we say "Wah"; the Chief at the "Council Rock" is addressed "O Chief," and speaks not from the chair, but from the "Council Rock." Any one wishing to speak, arises, salutes, giving the Woodcraft sign, says, "O Chief" and waits until the Chief recognizes him by name or gesture, thus giving the sole right of speech for the time. All others sit down.

When a member arrives after the beginning of Council, and there is danger of disturbing the proceedings, he stands outside the ring until the Chief looks at him, then salutes and says: "Oh Chief, may I enter?" (Or if the Indian words are preferred: "Ho, Itanchanka, en mla, hay?") And the Chief. replies "Enter!" (Or, in the Indian : "Teema u !") The member then takes his seat without crossing the Council Ring.

It is not proper to whisper in Council, nor to laugh when a serious matter is being presented, nor look around much, nor heed not the speaker, nor should one make a noise or tap with one's feet or hands, or with a stick, or chew or eat or lounge about, or lie down, nor turn to look when some one arrives late, but in all ways act as though each speaker were great and important, however much he may be otherwise. For this is good manners.

After the Omaha Tribal Prayer, disperse in silence.

No dogs allowed in Council and no babies.

See chapter on story-telling.

Indoor Council

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For indoor councils it is often desirable to have an "indoor council fire" which is made by connecting one or more electric bulbs covering the lights with orange crepe paper and then building around it a "log cabin fire." Of course, nothing burns but the light but the effect is very striking and the expense is slight.

Sometimes also candles are used. They should be well guarded.

Order of Doings in Council

bulletOpening Call to Council 
bulletLighting of Fire (preferably with rubbing sticks).
bulletReciting of Laws.
bulletAppointment of Officers Roll Call Tally of Last Council Business arising out of Tally Report of Wampum Keeper
bulletScout Reports.
bulletLeft-over Business Honorable Mention
bulletFor Good of Tribe (Complaints, etc.)
bulletHonor Badges New Business
bulletNew Members, Initiations, etc.
bulletChallenges, games and other forms of entertainment
bulletOmaha Tribal Prayer. Now disperse in silence.

The Three Calls to Council

When we wish to be short and businesslike, the Chief rises, calls for silence by raising his right flat hand, palm forward and says

"My friends, give ear, we are about to hold a Council." When we wish to be a little more picturesque, the Chief pounds on the drum, then raising his hand, calls out in Sioux

"Meetah kola nahoonpo omnee cheeyay nee chopi."

When the circumstances seem to justify it, the Chief holds the tom-tom high in one hand, while with the other he beats a measured beat. At the same time he sings the Zuni Council Call as follows

Yo-o-o ee Yo ho Yo ho o h-o-o-o

Sometimes all three calls are used at the same Council, with a word of explanation between.

The Birch Bark Roll






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Last modified: October 15, 2016.