- The Washington Times - Friday, June 28, 2002

FRONT ROYAL, Va. Virginia 4-H officials have "made a short-term decision to discontinue the use" of all American Indian symbols and traditions, said Barry Garst, an extension specialist for Virginia 4-H.

Virginia, anticipating trouble because of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's investigation of the West Virginia 4-H's use of American Indian customs and culture, has already switched camp themes from indigenous peoples to indigenous animals.

Campers who once formed tribes known as the Mattaponi, Monacan, Pamunkey and the Cherokee all Indians native to Virginia are now grouped as packs of Eagles, Snakes, Deer, Bobcats and Owls.

Afternoon pow-wows at the weeklong Junior Camp for 9- to 13-year-olds are now called "cave meetings." Spirit sticks are no longer used to identify tribal representatives; they are now "spirit flags" for pack representatives.

"We've suspended everything," said Lance Johnson, project director at the Northern Virginia 4-H Education Center in Front Royal, Va. "We don't use the word 'tribe' anymore."

Vestiges remain, however, of the Front Royal camp's Indian-themed history.

A large white teepee still sits behind the administrative office. It is used for the camp's Native American Arts and Traditions class, which has not been discontinued. As long as the class adheres to Virginia standards of learning, it may continue, said Mr. Garst.

And while adult 4-H officials scramble to adjust to ever-changing definitions of what is or is not offensive, the old camp traditions die hard for returning youngsters.

One young camper stood to identify himself Wednesday night at the closing ceremony around the campfire called the "Great Light," which used to be the "Sacred Light."

He addressed the "Great Bear," previously the "Big Chief," a teen counselor who runs the campfire assemblies, and said he was "from the Deer Tribe."

Low murmurs and gasps rippled through the adults seated to his right, and he stammered to correct himself.

"The Deer Pack, I mean," he said.

The 4-H organization's abandonment of the word "tribe" may be an overreaction because "tribe," according to the fourth edition of the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, is actually derived from the Latin "tribus," meaning a division of the Roman people. The word is commonly used in the King James Bible, as well.

But officials with the youth organization are concerned that continued use of "incorrect" terms could brand the group as "racist" which would mean a loss of federal funds for the six Virginia 4-H summer camps and the 14,000 children they serve.

Virginia 4-H Associate Director Bob Meadows decided to drop the Indian customs after attending a weeklong review of the West Virginia program in March. The review was conducted by two representatives from the USDA, along with five 4-H officials from around the country, including Mr. Meadows.

Indian representatives were invited to speak, and they told the board use of Indian names and practices in the camps was inappropriate.

On March 22, chapter leaders in West Virginia announced that they would do away with the traditions, but that decision was quickly overturned by West Virginia University President David C. Hardesty Jr. The university, which oversees the 4-H programs, reversed the decision after outraged 4-H alumni sued.

But if the USDA's investigation finds that West Virginia's 4-H is in violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which prohibits discrimination in any program receiving federal assistance it could mean an end to the $4.5 million in federal funds the state gets each year for 4-H.

On April 11, a committee headed by Mr. Garst decided animal names were more appropriate for Virginia camps. He defended his decision to drop the Indian customs.

"We've never done anything out of fear of litigation," he said. "We were just trying to take a thorough view of what we were doing and trying to make it as historically accurate as possible."

The changes haven't gone over well with some counselors at the picturesque camp in Front Royal. Many of the teen leaders and volunteers attended this same summer camp as youngsters, and the Indian-themed customs were seen as a part of the tradition.

"I don't think it was racist," said Marilyn Jarvis, the extension agent for Loudoun County, said of the American Indian customs. "We were looking at it from an educational standpoint. It was a good thing."

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