4-H keeps tribe names, abandons Indian practices

Tuesday, December 17, 2002

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- Children in West Virginia's 4-H program will no longer don feathered headdresses, engage in "stereotypical motions and dances" or chant a tribal cheer of "Ugh! Ugh! Ugh!" at summer camps, officials who oversee the program announced Monday.

Only traditions that are educational and respectful of American Indians will remain in 2003, the committee said. Children should, for example, be allowed to continue the 80-year-old practice of joining one of four tribes -- the Mingo, Cherokee, Delaware or Seneca -- to learn about unity and teamwork.

But a spokesman for the Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma dismissed the report and the policy changes as "nothing more than a 'white wash' to support the continued use of American Indian imagery and symbolism."

"If West Virginia University is truly 'committed to communicating, teaching, and promoting the principles of opportunity, equality, civility and respect for all people,' one would expect that all aspects of the American Indian would disappear from the West Virginia 4-H camping program," policy analyst Richard Allen said.

"To suggest that American Indian tribal organizations are the model for camping is stereotypical in itself," Allen wrote in an e-mail Monday to WVU Extension Service Director Larry Cote.

Cote and WVU President David Hardesty formed the panel in April to review statewide camping practices after a Roane County parent found some offensive and complained to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the federal agency that funds 4-H.

While American Indians commented privately on the state's program and helped craft recommendations, they were reluctant to officially serve on the committee, said David Snively and Sue Jones, authors of the 17-page report released Monday.

Nor did federally recognized tribes respond to invitations to observe the camps, they said. West Virginia has no federally recognized tribes, and American Indians account for less than 1 percent of the state's population.

The Extension Service sent its report to the USDA's Office of Civil Rights and asked that the complaint from Wess Harris be dismissed.

Harris declined comment on the report Monday, saying he would wait for the responses of the USDA and American Indian groups. USDA officials did not respond to several telephone calls Monday.

Cote, however, said the policy changes should end the controversy.

"I believe we have achieved what the thousands of passionate and dedicated West Virginia 4-H'ers asked for: Keep as many of our West Virginia 4-H traditions as possible, and halt anything that might be stereotypical or offensive," he said.

In March, when Harris filed his complaint, Cote and Hardesty ordered 4-H organizers to drop all American Indian-themed traditions. But after what Hardesty called "an overwhelmingly negative response" from the public and unclear guidance from USDA, they reinstated most practices.

Face-painting was among the few banned; the rest were subjected to review.

A century old this year, 4-H began as a way to provide a practical, hands-on education in agriculture and home economics to America's rural youth. Today, 55 percent of its participants are from cities and suburbs, and the focus is on helping youth at risk.

This year, more than 11,000 children attended state and county 4-H camps in West Virginia, following some of the themes that William H. Kendrick introduced in 1925.

The West Virginia tribe names were chosen after research indicated they were the groups most likely to have lived in the state. Chiefs and sagamores are named as leadership tools.

"The tribal system of organizing camps is important to the continued success of the program," the report says.

Totem poles at the state camp in Jackson's Mill, erected in the 1920s, also "have historical and artistic significance," and a High Council ceremony is largely educational, the report said.

Children designated as chiefs of their respective tribes will still be allowed to wear felt headbands, and spirit sticks for competitive victories will still be awarded, minus feathers or other decorations.

Campers also may continue using emblems, colors, songs and most cheers. The Big Foot tribal cheer of "Ugh! Ugh! Ugh!" will be replaced, but the Omaha Tribal Benediction will continue. It translates to, "Father, a needy one stands before Thee. I that sing am he."

The review committee recommends developing a standard 4-H camping guide that describes appropriate American Indian themes and award systems. The panel also suggested a standard script be developed for the High Council and peace pipe ceremonies, with sources and references identified.

Camp leaders also should ensure "the present-day conditions of native peoples are reflected" in camping practices, the report said.

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On the Net

West Virginia 4-H: http://www.wvu.edu/ 7/8exten/depts/famyou/4h.htm

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