- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 26, 2002

Lawmakers in both parties, including those from states with sizable American Indian populations, said yesterday that they support the use of Indian names and symbols by a 4-H summer camp in West Virginia.

"Certainly, we want to encourage cultural enhancement and greater participation in 4-H," said Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat. "I would think that [the use of Indian symbols] would allow the promotion of greater involvement."

The Washington Times reported yesterday that the Bush administration has begun a civil rights investigation of the use of American Indian symbols and tribal names in West Virginia's 4-H Club chapter. A complaint was filed by a parent of a girl who attended the summer camp in 2000.

If the probe by the Agriculture Department uncovers civil rights violations, the agency will seek an agreement with program sponsor West Virginia University Extension Service or refer the matter to the Justice Department for enforcement.

Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, said the debate in the state has caught his attention.

"I've been reading about that; I saw The Washington Times," Mr. McCain said. "I've never understood [the objection]. I know a lot of Native Americans who are proud that people take up their being 'braves' and things like that."

He said the complaint by a white family "seems to be very curious" and that he has no objection to organizations using Indian names "if the Native Americans agreed."

Rep. Jeff Flake, Arizona Republican, called the complaint "political correctness run amok."

The federal government allocates about $4.5 million every year to the university and its 4-H program through agriculture appropriations. Sen. Tom Harkin, Iowa Democrat and chairman of the Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee, said he saw nothing wrong with the 4-H Club's use of Indian names and symbols.

"I would think they would have a sense of pride that 4-H is using tribal names and stuff as a means of recognizing Native Americans' close adherence to nature, their support of our environment," Mr. Harkin said. "It seems to me that's a sense of pride for Native Americans. If it's done in the spirit of recognition of our heritage and of the contributions made by Native Americans, who could object to that?"

Another member of the committee, Sen. Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, wondered "why everybody is so uptight and taking offense at names."

"I don't know why everybody's taking offense at the use of Native American names," Mr. McConnell said. "I would hope the 4-H would be free to use these names, and I don't know why people take offense at them."

Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, West Virginia Republican, whose district includes the camp in question, said she has received many letters from former 4-H campers who want the tradition to continue.

"The complaint should be looked into," Mrs. Capito said. "But I'd hate to see all the years of tradition and heritage just cast aside. 4-H has a long and storied tradition of youth involvement in our state for decades."

The senior senator fromWest Virginia, Democrat Robert C. Byrd, would not discuss the issue yesterday, saying he was too busy with the matter of emergency funding for Amtrak.

Some lawmakers urged 4-H sponsors to be sensitive to the complaint, although they said such concerns usually are raised by American Indians.

Sen. Ben Nelson, Nebraska Democrat, said he had often dealt with similar complaints when he was governor.

"I've always said we ought not to take names and/or have student symbols that are offensive," he said. "We returned remains that were in the historical society for appropriate burial to try to ease some of these concerns that they have. When somebody tells you this is offensive, you ought to take a look at it."

Asked if Congress could cut off funding for the 4-H Club, Mr. Nelson replied, "That's possible, but from my standpoint, I would think this would be self-correcting. If it's got to come from Congress from the top down, we're all in trouble."

For 80 years, camping groups in West Virginia's 4-H chapter have used the Cherokee, Delaware, Mingo and Seneca Indian tribe names and have gathered in the evenings in council circles. They sometimes engage in war whoops and use face paint, "spirit sticks" and headdresses.

Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination in any program receiving federal funds.

Sen. Pat Roberts, Kansas Republican, said the issue came up in his state when groups sought to change the names of sports teams.

"It depends on the symbol," Mr. Roberts said. "Seneca and Delaware, I can't imagine that would be a problem. 'Redskins' is the one that gets people stirred up. I would think they ought to be able to name their camp the way they want to."

A White House spokesman said he could not comment on the case because it is under investigation.

Matthew Cella contributed to this report.

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