(03/27/2002)
By Bob Weaver

Abolishing Native American "indian" rituals from the West Virginia 4-H program is receiving national media attention. Most of the callers to West Virginia's Metro News "Talk line," have stated they are former 4-H members, and angry about the change.

One caller said it was "political correctness run amuck." The university generally adopts politically correct positions, some well-supported and popular positions.

The 44,000 4-H members and volunteer leaders around West Virginia were mostly unaware of the change until a news release was given the media last week.

The issue originated from a single complaint filed last year with the USDA by a West Virginia resident who has children in 4-H, according to WVU Extension Service Director Larry Cote. Cote said the complainant was concerned about behavior in "high council" and the use of the greeting "how-how," which is mostly based on depiction in Hollywood westerns.

Native American groups did not originate the complaints, although they have now been consulted extensively about the issue.

"We are not responding out of fear, we are trying to do what is right out of respect," said Cote, although 4-H programs are largely funded through the USDA. Cote indicated the withholding of federal funds could come into play.

Cote said a long-time 4-H leader said "What I understand about the spiritual issues connected to Native Americans, I could never run the camp again, knowing this." The agency said what 4-Her's do around their tribal fire is not modeled after anything the actual tribes do or have ever done, although those with objections consider it some kind of spiritual mockery.

"Our program and the Native American customs we have used are well-intended and well-meaning," said Cote. "But it is important we don't teach children practices that in any way demean a race, perpetuate stereotypes or trivialize sacred customs."

Cote said the agency is seeking input from 4-H leaders, volunteers and members regarding new directions.

The Extension Service and possibly WVU, related to political correctness, instituted a policy where young people must have written parental consent before they can be photographed by the media, a position based on a federal law that did not allow children to be photographed. The law was struck down by the Supreme Court, but WVU continues with the policy. The policy disallows photos of children at events, sporting activities or camps which are held in every community. Media pictures have become more controlled, or in some cases exclusionary.

Possibly not connected to the controversy, Kanawha County commissioner Kent Carper, in tightening the counties budget, called WVU Extension services a "green acres" program that amounts to little more than gardening programs for county residents. Opponents of the agency, which has a long history of service to farm families, have stated it has outlived its usefulness.

Carper is opposed to spending $107,000 a year on the service, with most information now available on the internet. The counties other commissioners said the Extension Service provides some valuable health programs. The Kanawha County Board of Education contributes $10,000 to the agency, which has a West Virginia budget.

Director Larry Cote's office at WVU Extension Services in Morgantown declined to provide financial information regarding the agencies over-all budget. After explaining such information should be readily available to the public, a receptionist stated "They will want to know why you want that." A Freedom of Information Request has been made.

A few weeks ago a state-wide conference was held at WVU regarding the Freedom of Information Act, with various officials presenting their views. The conference was held to enlighten officials about public information responsibilities. WVU has often been charged with violating the FOIA, including denials issued to the University's own daily newspaper.


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