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Court says what, but doesn't say 'how'

July 03, 2005|by LYN WIDMYER

Thanks to last month's ruling by the U.S. Department of Agriculture Office of Civil Rights, Teenage Daughter is still a member of the Delaware tribe.

Not the REAL Delawares, of course. To qualify as a real Delaware you must prove you had blood relations living in Indian territory (now Oklahoma) in 1906.

Teenage Daughter belongs to the 4-H version of the Delaware tribe, and membership is a lot easier.

In West Virginia, 4-H camp goers are assigned to one of four tribes (Delaware, Cherokee, Mingo or Seneca) when they first attend 4-H camp.

Teenage Daughter became a Delaware in 1994 at Tri-County 4-H camp near Hedgesville. Her father became a Delaware at the same camp back in the 1950s. He likes to remind Teenage Daughter when HE went to Camp Frame there was no swimming pool (they swam in the Opequon River) and no fancy shower rooms. Even the entrance road was unpaved.

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I tell my husband that dirt was probably easier on the horse and buggy that undoubtedly delivered him to camp.

Just as in my husband's day, the week long camp ends with a campfire ceremony. Sitting with their tribes, the kids sing, tell jokes and perform skits.

Instead of clapping, kids show their appreciation by yelling "How! How!" The camp director is called "chief" and counselors are collectively referred to as Big Feet. The most enthusiastic tribe is honored with a spirit stick.

All this Indian imagery was too much for a 4-H parent in Roane County, West Virginia.

In 2002 he filed a civil rights complaint with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the sponsor of 4-H, alleging discrimination, misuse and misinterpretation of American Indian customs.

Admittedly, lots of things happen at the 4-H campfire ceremony that were probably not part of Native American culture. I doubt after a hard day of hunting buffalo, Indians sat around the campfire singing endless rounds of "If I Had a Hammer."

Tribal members probably did not seek approval of the chief by being the first to answer such challenging questions as "Why does a milking stool have only three legs?" (Answer: because the cow has the udder).

Maybe the campfire program isn't historically accurate, but I think real Delaware parents might appreciate what I like most about the ceremony.

This summer, I saw 110 teenagers detached from their cell phones and their CD players, separated from their TVs and video games, doing silly skits, singing songs extolling the virtues of camp life and tearfully thanking the counselors for their hard work.

Nobody rolled their eyes, nobody sighed heavily from boredom and nobody looked anxious to leave. They were having fun with nary an electronic device in sight.

It's nice to know this tradition can continue.

After reviewing an in-depth, 4-H sponsored study of Native American traditions, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has decided tribal themes at 4-H camp can continue.

Some traditions will be discontinued, like wearing headdresses and using the symbol of a peace pipe, a sacred icon to Native Americans.

I am glad 4-H is being respectful of Native American traditions and even happier that my daughter can remain a Delaware.

In keeping with 4-H custom and based on the finding by the Department of Agriculture that this expression was actually used by Indians, I say "How! How!"




Lyn Widmyer is a Charles Town, W.Va., resident who writes for The Herald-Mail. She may be reached at rwidmyer@msn.com.

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