(12/22/2002)
A report on the use of Native American themes at West Virginia 4-H camps recommends continuing the system of organizing campers into one of four tribes and continuing the use of tribal names that have been in place for 80 years.

The report also recommends discontinuing practices, such as the wearing of feather headdresses, which could be perceived as stereotypical, according to a press release.

The 17-page report, based on a six-month review of the 4-H camping program, was released December 16th by the West Virginia University Extension Service.

The agency's decision earlier this year to eliminate "Indian traditions" brought an outcry from hundreds of people in West Virginia connected with 4-H, particularly since leaders and members had not been consulted.

Richard Allen, a policy analyst for the Cherokee Nation and a leading voice on the nationwide American Indian mascot controversy, has criticized the agency's determination to use American Indian-based themes in 4-H camps in West Virginia.

"They may have exacerbated their own problem. It's a little bit bold. They're saying they'll drop the most blatant things and keep the ones they want," said Allen.

The 4-H program, operated by West Virginia University's Extension Service, has been under investigation by the U.S. Department of Agriculture since March, when a Roane County parent filed a complaint with the department's Civil Rights Office.

Wes Harris, a Roane County farmer and sociologist, accused the 4-H program of misusing and misinterpreting American Indian images and trivializing sacred customs.

Harris remains unhappy about the report, and believes 4-H use of "Indian-like" traditions is a civil rights violation.

The USDA provides about $4.5 million in funding annually to the 4-H program and millions more to WVU, said the civil rights investigation is continuing.

USDA investigators attended state and county camps this summer to observe practices and have interviewed 4-H campers, counselors and Native Americans, including Allen.

4-H leaders simultaneously conducted an eight-month review of their own program, concluding that the traditions began "to foster a greater understanding of the Native American culture.

"These traditions, which have been passed from one generation of campers to another, have become very important to the program's participants and to the continued success of the program," the report states.

The full report can be found on the WVU Extension Service website, WVU Extension Service

Recommendations from the report will be used in planning for the 2003 West Virginia 4-H camping season.


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