Answer Man: Why are the Indian Guides gone?

News-DemocratMarch 11, 2014 

When I was a child growing up in St. Louis in the '60s, my father and I were part of a YMCA-sponsored organization called Indian Guides. It was similar to the Boy Scouts but with an obvious American Indian influence. We had monthly meetings, camping trips, and many activities that were centered on American Indian cultures. It was great fun and instilled in me a lifelong interest and respect for Native Americans. My question is this: What happened to this organization? Do you have any history on it? Was it a victim of political correctness?

-- WNC, of Collinsville

If you didn't know it before, you'll probably be fascinated to learn that you were part of a nationwide program that had its beginnings right here in St. Louis.

In the 1920s, Harold S. Keltner, a prominent member of the St. Louis YMCA, took frequent hunting and fishing trips to Canada. His guide (and friend) was an Ojibwa Indian named Joe Friday. One night Keltner and his guide were musing around a campfire when Friday said:

"The Indian father raises his son. He teaches his son to hunt, track, fish, walk softly and silently in the forest, know the meaning and purpose of life and all he must know, while the white man allows the mother to raise the son."

Those words hit home with Keltner, so he invited Friday to share his thoughts and work with him at the St. Louis Y. There, Friday spoke to groups of boys and dads. Keltner was taken by how interested both fathers and their sons were in American Indian culture.

At the same time, Keltner also was captivated by the work of Ernest Thompson Seton, a wildlife artist and one of the founding pioneers of the Boy Scouts of America.

So, combining the two influences, Keltner conceived of a father-son program based on American Indian ideals -- dignity, patience, endurance, spirituality, love for the Earth and concern for family. He called it the Y-Indian Guide Program, a way to support a father's role as teacher, counselor and friend to his young sons. In 1926, he organized the first tribe in Richmond Heights with William Hefelfinger as chief.

It quickly blossomed into one of the YMCA's most successful programs and, with the rise of the Family YMCA after World War II, led to other family pairings. A mother-daughter program, now called Y-Maidens, began in 1951 in South Bend, Ind. Three years later, Y-Princesses emerged in Fresno, Calif., for fathers and daughters. Finally to complete the circle, the national YMCA began recognizing the Y-Indian Braves Program in 1980 for mothers and sons.

Even after that, the program expanded. At first, the Y-Indian Guides was designed for boys in the first through third grades. But in 1969, the Y-Trail Blazers were started for 9-to-11-year-old boys, and Trail Maidens, Trail Mates and Co-Ed Trail Blazers soon followed.

But as time passed, some of these groups reportedly took the Indian theme to an extreme -- and that's according to the YMCA's own history. Many others, however, emphasized the Native American component only "where it seemed to make the most sense."

Nonetheless, in the late 1980s, Native American lobbyists and others asked the YMCA to drop the Indian theme from the program, explaining that it often stereotyped their culture. As a result, the Y changed the program's theme from "Indian" to "Adventure" and changed the name to Adventure Guides.

Like you, it seems a shame to me to change a program originally set up to promote the best of Indian life to other peoples. I was thinking it would be kind of like me, of German heritage, asking various churches and granges to start using the term "pork sausage dinner" instead of "wurstmarkt," which may denote an afternoon of beer and fried, fatty meat to some rather than Old World tradition.

But I have no Indian blood nor do I know to what extremes some of those YMCA tribes might have gone, so I can't speak definitively. In any case, the Y's Adventure Guides program still involves a quarter-million children and parents annually.

I am a big fan of Kate Beckinsale from the "Underworld" movie series. Do you know how I can write her? Please help!

-- Steve Jetton, of Coulterville

The latest address I have for the 40-year-old action star is to write her in care of the Media Talent Group, 9200 Sunset Blvd., Suite 550, West Hollywood, CA 90069. However, since the mother of one broke into films in "Much Ado About Nothing" while a 19-year-old Oxford student in 1993, you also might try the Independent Talent Group Ltd., 40 Whitfield St., London WIT 2RH, United Kingdom.

Today's trivia

If you were in the banana business, what would you call a typical bunch (or cluster) of your fruit?

Answer to Tuesday's trivia: Regarded as the Riviera of the Middle East by some, Lebanon is usually recognized as the only country in the region without a desert.

Send your questions to Roger Schlueter, Belleville News-Democrat, 120 S. Illinois St., P.O. Box 427, Belleville, IL 62222-0427 or rschlueter@bnd.com or call 618-239-2465.

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