- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 17, 2002

West Virginia 4-H summer camps will keep most of their American-Indian customs after an eight-month review of whether the traditions are illegal or inappropriate.
"We believe there is nothing illegal about what we are doing or have done," said West Virginia University Extension Service Director Larry Cote. "After that, it is a question of whether things are appropriate or not."
A review committee for the youth group decided that most of their American-Indian traditions, many of which date back to 1925, are appropriate. The committee issued a 17-page report yesterday detailing their review and recommendations.
They have decided that a few 4-H traditions must go, including face-painting that imitates or stereotypes American Indians, wearing of feather headdresses, stereotypical tribal motions or dances, and a ceremonial tribal cheer that goes, "Ugh, Ugh, Ugh."
"There is no educational value, and they're not accurate and they could be seen as stereotypical. Over the years, they turned into things they were never intended to be in the first place," said West Virginia University Extension Service Assistant Director David Snively, who wrote the report.
But young people at 4-H summer camps will continue to be grouped by the names of four American Indian tribes that the report says "inhabited the area now known as West Virginia: Cherokee, Mingo, Delaware, and Seneca."
The campers, who range from 9 to 21 years old, will still gather each night at the Council Circle, which is presided over by a "chief," and they will use traditional tribal emblems, colors, totem poles, cheers and songs.
Mr. Cote said that 4-H's American-Indian traditions help organize their camps, but also help instill values such as "respect for nature, and for cooperation among people."
"The original reasons and principles for including them are very much revered and we'd like to teach those today," he said.
In addition, Mr. Cote said that 4-H traditions are a connection between generations of 4-H members.
"If we all of a sudden name them 'Bluebirds,' it won't have grandma and grandad's sense of deep purpose, and that's an important thing in West Virginia," Mr. Cote said. "We saw much more to honor and keep than we saw the need to throw out."
The 4-H, which stands for Head, Heart, Hands and Health, was founded in 1902 to provide better agricultural education for young people and is funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Extension Service, and some county commissions and school boards.
Mr. Cote said that more than 11,000 children attended state and county 4-H camps in West Virginia last summer.
Their review was prompted after Wess Harris, a Roane County, W.Va., farmer and sociologist filed a civil rights complaint with the USDA in the fall of 2001 after his daughter attended a 4-H summer camp. He claimed that the 4-H American Indian traditions were "totally inappropriate racism" and a "marketing tool."
Mr. Harris said yesterday he didn't know enough about the most recent developments to comment, but suspected that the Extension Service's report would not mean much until the USDA concludes its own investigation. A USDA investigator could not be reached for comment.
When the USDA formally accepted Mr. Harris's complaint and began an investigation, it appeared that the 4-H might lose the $4.5 million in annual funding it receives from the USDA. The 4-H decided to abandon all American Indian traditions in the upcoming summer camp, only to be greeted by a reaction from West Virginians that the report called "overwhelmingly negative."
West Virginia University administers 4-H funds from the USDA through its Extension Service, and in April, WVU President David C. Hardesty Jr. announced a committee would review 4-H policies on American Indian traditions. That committee decided the camp would go on "as usual" during the summer of 2002.
The report recommends that the 4-H make improvements in their training of staff and their American Indian reference materials and curriculum, but certain American Indian groups are still not satisfied.
"I think they should have eliminated it all. It allows people to continue to denigrate the culture," said Dr. Richard Allen, Policy Analyst for the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma.
Mr. Snively said the committee consulted various American Indian groups, and some supported abolishing all inauthentic expressions of American Indian traditions, while others had no objections.

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