First, from an e-mail dated 7/19/03:
Camp Fire Boys and Girls give service!
Here's a quote from the webpage of the camp I attended and was a counselor at:
"Camp Fire has always borrowed from the rich traditions of our Native American Cultures. At Camp Wilani, all aged campers in all sessions may learn about the Native American tribes that once lived in this region. Daytime and evening events at the new Native Village will focus on educating campers of indigenous ways through crafts, outdoor cooking, and sleeping in a tipi."
I was in Camp Fire for years and earned the highest award (WOHELO Medallion) and got a lot out of the program. Today however, I don't think I would let my kids participate in the program because of this "borrowed" "Indian Lore" nonsense.
Now, we were expected to treat this part of the program with the utmost respect—our "Ceremonial Gowns/Tunics" were *not* to be worn as costumes (I once went so far as to buy two old gowns from a costume rack at a thrift store and donate them to the local Camp Fire council so they would not be used for this purpose), and "Ceremonials" were rather solemn occasions, but at the same time, it was as if we were being taught about Native culture as if it were a *dead* culture. Like ancient Egypt or something. I can't recall meeting an actual Native American in all my years in the program.
I'm biased but I think the program is not nearly as bad as the Boy Scouts "Order of the Arrow" activities, and is "kinder and gentler" than BSA because of its former all-girls status, however, I think it might be time for the organization to move on. They claim to embrace multiculturalism—get this (from their official website):
"Camp Fire USA's programs are designed and implemented to reduce sex-role, racial and cultural stereotypes and to foster positive intercultural relationships."
Hmm. Reducing cultural stereotypes with beads and fringe?
If you have any suggestions, I would like to write to the head office and see what they say. Do you know if anyone has approached Camp Fire about this?
Love your website, keep up the good work!
Dr. Charles Alexander Eastman, a.k.a. Ohiyesa, Wahpeton Dakota Sioux (1858-1939)
As a Sioux, he was known as Ohiyesa. His father was a Sioux Indian; his mother was the daughter of a U.S. Army officer and the granddaughter of a famous Sioux chief. Ohiyesa had the traditional upbringing of a Sioux from 1858 to 1874, followed by an undergraduate degree from Dartmouth and a medical degree from Boston University Medical School. He became a fully licensed physician. He was the only physician to aid victims of the Wounded Knee massacre in 1890. Because of racism, his ability to earn a living as a physician was always difficult. To support his family, in 1895 he began working for the YMCA organizing programs for youth living on Indian reservations. In 1920 he helped verify the burial site of Sacajawea.
While it became politically correct to condemn Camp Fire and Boy Scouts of America for stereotyping the indigenous peoples of America and for "exploiting" their cultures, much of that early lore was offered to CFG and BSA by Ohiyesa. His 1914 book Indian Scout Talks was subtitled "A Guide for Boy Scouts and Camp Fire Girls." He wrote, "These chapters represent the actual experiences and first-hand knowledge of the author. His training was along these lines, until he was nearly sixteen years of age. It is with the earnest hope that they may prove useful to all who venture into the wilderness in pursuit of wisdom, health, and pleasure, that they are dedicated to The Boy Scouts of America and The Camp Fire Girls of America."
It might be argued that Dr. Eastman himself did not see the true picture of the Sioux, that he saw "the Sioux ways" through the eyes of a child, idolozing them or turning them "magical" as people sometimes do with the days of their youth. However, it must be noted that it was a Sioux Indian who gave Camp Fire so much of its Indian lore, tradition, and flavor.
The source, however, was forgotten. Until I began doing this research, I'd never heard anyone in Camp Fire credit Dr. Eastman in any way. THAT is the shame: That a man like Dr. Eastman did so much, yet his name and his deeds would be forgotten. Sometimes it's important to remember to tell a man's story, so he is not forgotten.
For more on a related subject, see YMCA-Indian Guides.