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Directive proves to be bogus

USDA 4-H

April 12, 2002|BY BOB MAGINNIS

A threat to cut off federal funding for West Virginia's 4-H programs - and some West Virginia University programs - unless its summer camps stopped using American Indian customs was apparently not legitimate.

The decisions based on that threat will be delayed, pending a year-long investigation. In the meantime, the as-yet-unnamed federal employee should get a trip to the woodshed for his meddling.

The problems began during a review of West Virginia's program by seven national 4-H leaders. During the review, one member of the group phoned a U.S. Department of Agriculture official to discuss a complaint filed by as Roane County parent with USDA's Office of Civil Rights.

That call produced what 4-H officials called a "verbal directive" to end all American Indian practices by June 1. Word of that directive went to Larry Cote, West Virginia University's Extension Service Director, who on March 22 issued an order eliminating the practices from all summer camps.

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Jim Lees, a Charleston lawyer representing 4-H alumni, threatened to sue, saying WVU had violated the state's open-meeting law by eliminating Indian practices without a public hearing. WVU officials then sought written clarification of the USDA policy.

It hadn't arrived as of Tuesday, but USDA officials have issued a statement saying the agency has no authority to threaten any funding as long as the program it is "in compliance with the general requirements Congress places on the funding."

Now extension officials will spend a year studying 4-H camp practices, with a view toward eliminating those that Native Americans deem offensive, like the use of "war paint."

Cote defends his March 22 decision by saying that he felt millions in federal dollars were at risk. We understand that concern, but not questioning orders that don't make sense only gives the little Napoleons in the federal bureaucracy more power to make mischief.

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