The purpose of the Order of the Arrow is fourfold:
- To recognize those Scout campers who best exemplify the Scout Oath and Law in their daily lives
- To develop and maintain camping traditions and spirit
- To promote Scout camping
- To crystallize the Scout habit of helpfulness into a life purpose of leadership in cheerful service to others
The Order of the Arrow (OA) was founded by Dr. E. Urner Goodman and Carroll A. Edson in 1915 at the Treasure Island Camp of the Philadelphia Council, Boy Scouts of America. It became an experimental program of the Boy Scouts in 1922 and was approved as part of the Scouting program in 1934.
In 1948 the OA, recognized as the BSA's national brotherhood of honor campers, became an official part of the national camping program of the Boy Scouts of America.
The OA has more than 176,000 members located in lodges affiliated with approximately 327 BSA local councils.
To become a candidate for election into the Order of the Arrow, a youth must be a registered member of a Boy Scout troop or Venture crew and have achieved the rank of First Class. The scout must have experienced 15 days and nights of camping during the two years prior to his election. These 15 days and nights must include six consecutive days (including five nights) at a Boy Scout sanctioned camp, approved and under the auspices and standards of the Boy Scouts of America. The rest of the camping must be overnight, weekend, or other short-term camps. Scouts are elected to the Order by their fellow troop or crew members, following approval by the Scoutmaster or Venture crew advisor.
Each unit may recommend one adult per year for induction into the Order of the Arrow, when the adults position in scouting makes Order of the Arrow membership more meaningful in the lives of the youth membership. Adults are subject to the same requirements as the scouts.
The induction ceremony for the Order of the Arrow, called the Ordeal is the first step towards full membership. During the Ordeal, candidates maintain complete silence, receive small amounts of food, work on meaningful projects, and are required to sleep alone, apart from other campers, which teaches significant values.
After 10 months of service and fulfilling certain requirements, a member may take part in the Brotherhood ceremony, which places further emphasis on the ideals of Scouting and the Order. Completion of this ceremony signifies full membership in the OA.
After two years of service as a Brotherhood member, and with the approval of the national Order of the Arrow Committee, a Scout may be recognized with the Vigil Honor for outstanding service to Scouting, his lodge, and the community. This honor is bestowed by special selection and is limited to one person for every 50 members registered with the lodge each year.
Each Order of the Arrow lodge is granted a charter from the National Council, BSA, upon annual application by the local council. The OA lodge helps the local council provide a quality Scouting program through recognition of Scouting spirit and performance, development of youth leadership and service, promotion of Scout camping and outdoor programs, and enhancement of membership tenure.
An Order of the Arrow section consists of lodges within a geographic area of the region. Once every year, representatives of lodges in the section come together for a conclave to share in fellowship, skills, and training. All of the elected section chiefs form the conference committee for a national Order of the Arrow event, which is held under the guidance of the national Order of the Arrow Committee.
The region chief is the youth leader of the region elected by the section chiefs for a term of office specified by the national Order of the Arrow Committee, which coincides with the term of national chief and vice-chief. This election is held in conjunction with called meetings of the section chiefs to elect the national chief and vice-chief, as well as to plan a national Order of the Arrow event.