A couple of years ago, I was the Cubmaster of a small Cub Scout pack that was joining with another pack so that we could provide even better activities for our little cubs. In an effort to make the members of the packs quickly feel unity within the new group, we launched an initiative we called “One Tribe.”

I wanted to have a strong symbol to represent the One Tribe philosophy, and we decided that our first joint pack meeting would be all about unity and introducing the One Tribe theme. I envisioned the cub scouts marching in at the beginning of the meeting carrying pieces of a totem pole that would be pieced together to symbolize the unity of all of the dens within the packs. So we got to work building one.

The inspiration for the totem pole came from Reactor-88, an incredible artist who does some funky totem-like art. Specifically, I loved his contribution to Dolly Oblong’s Paper Totem project. With that art as a foundation, I created a vector version of what I wanted our totem pole to look like. It’s a series of stacked symbols representing the Cub Scout ranks of Bobcat, Wolf, Bear, Webelos, and Arrow of Light.

My friend JD Winters of JPro Studios agreed to help me make the totem pole out of foam. First, I spent an evening converting the vector art file into a cut path for the CNC router.

This is what the computer predicted the final cut would look like. We had to make several adjustments to ensure we weren’t cutting all the way through the foam or getting any weird voids.

Next, we let the router works its magic.

Once the front panels were all carved, we used a hot wire to cut all of the remaining pieces and then painted the front panels with a brown base coat.

Then we glued all of the panels together. Each block consisted of one carved panel and three blank panels. They were cut and glued together as a slightly tapered box so that they had some shape to them but could still be stacked on top of each other.

After completing a full base coat, I asked JD to put his airbrushing skills to work to add some wood grain.

Finally, Kylee and I (with a bit of help from the kids) spent several evenings meticulously painting the carved totem. We had intended to add a glaze effect, but we actually liked how vibrant the color turned out.

The pack meeting turned out just how I’d seen it in my head. We dimmed the lights. The cub scouts had brought drums they made during den meetings the previous week. Using a new djembe I picked up just for the occasion, I led them to beat out a steady rhythm.  Two boys – one from each pack – danced ceremoniously as they carried in the totem pieces. Between each totem piece, other cubs danced to the front of the room holding up torches we had crafted out of short bamboo poles and battery-powered lights wrapped in twigs.

The totem was stacked on top of an orange-red up-light, making the totem glow from within and cast shadows across the stage and audience. Once the totem was properly built, we used a drum circle to teach about working in unity to find a beat and express individuality without breaking the rhythm.

At the end of the meeting, each boy received his activity uniform, which served as a reminder all year long that we were indeed One Tribe. And at each pack meeting that year, the boys built the totem and received small paper versions of each totem piece as they received rank advancements so that they could have their own miniature paper totems in their bedrooms.

Unity achieved.

Author Dustin Smith

Dustin is the father of four awesome kids and works as a consultant and entrepreneur in location-based family entertainment.

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