- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 31, 2002

The Maryland and Virginia chapters of 4-H plan to eliminate Indian names and traditions at their camps to avoid offending American Indians.
Both state chapters are reviewing the use of Indian names and customs, especially at summer camps, leaders of the youth development group said.
"4-H is very inclusive of all groups, and we want to make sure we are not putting off some people," said Bob Meadows, state leader for Virginia 4-H.
Mr. Meadows said 4-H members worked closely with Indians and often organized trips to reservations. The chapter counts arbout 840 Indians among its 181,000 members.
Neither chapter has received complaints about the Indian names, but leaders say they are trying to head off trouble.
"The larger national debate about the use of Native American names with sports teams and mascots has increased our sensitivity. It is important that we take this seriously," said Richard Byrne, leader of the Maryland 4-H chapter.
The West Virginia 4-H chapter last week decided to drop all references to Indians at its summer camps after it received a complaint from a parent and from several Indians. A complaint also was filed with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which funds 4-H, and a USDA review committee said the practice might infringe on the civil rights of Indians.
The committee said that unless changes are made, the West Virginia University Extension Service, which runs the state's 4-H program, could lose federal funding. The state's 4-H chapter has 44,000 members.
The group estimated it had 6.8 million members nationwide in 2000.
The use of Indian names and customs at 4-H camps dates back 80 years, said Larry LeFlore, director of the West Virginia chapter of 4-H. At the camps, students are divided into groups named after Indian tribes: Delaware, Mingo, Cherokee and Seneca. Counselors are called Big Feet. In the evenings, members gather around the campfire in a council circle, an Indian tradition. The traditions "have been very, very deep-rooted in generations" of 4-H members, Mr. LeFlore said.
Indians compared the council circles to "a group of Native Americans coming to one of our churches and screaming hymns at one another," Mr. LeFlore said.
The changes in West Virginia will be implemented for the camping season beginning in June, he said.
Meanwhile, the Virginia chapter has established a committee to research the matter, Mr. Meadows said, and a final decision will be made May 15.
The Maryland 4-H chapter, which has 45,000 members, is setting up a committee to "see the extent to which we have been using Native American names and imagery," Mr. Byrne said.
The District's 4-H leader did not return calls yesterday.
Mr. Byrne said Maryland camps use Indian names to a lesser extent than those in West Virginia.
Some local 4-H team leaders said eliminating American Indian names and customs is important to avoid offending certain segments of society. "We want to be sensitive to the people we work with," said Alganesh Piechocinski, a team leader from Montgomery County.
She added, however, that she had never heard any complaints from Indians about the 4-H camps and that the use of tribal names had served an educational purpose by helping children learn about diverse cultures.
Lauren Dobos, 17, of Rockville, has been with 4-H for nine years and has been to camp every year. She said it would be "upsetting" if campers no longer could use the Indian names and customs. "We are not doing anything demeaning, and we really respect the ideas of respecting nature and Mother Earth as the Native Americans do," Lauren said.
Erica Taffs, 18, of Silver Spring, is an eight-year veteran of 4-H. She said the campers, by naming themselves after Indian tribes, "model ourselves after people we respect. We love having the Indian names … it makes us feel special."

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide