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YMCA Indian Guide Program Story

The Beginning

"The Indian father raises his son. He teaches his son to hunt, to track, to fish, to walk softly and silently in the forest, to know the meaning and purpose of life and all that he must know, while the white man allows the mother to raise his son." These chance remarks made in the early 1920s by Ojibway Indian hunting guide Joe Friday to Harold Keltner, a St. Louis YMCA director, struck a responsive chord.

In 1925 Keltner arranged for Friday to speak before boys and dads in the St. Louis area. One evening after a talk given at a father and son banquet, Friday was so closely surrounded by fathers that the boys could not get near him. This gave Keltner an idea. Perhaps this strong mutual interest in the Indian could be put at the heart of a program aimed at closing the gap that he had seen widening between American fathers and their sons.

Keltner designed a father-son program based on the qualities of American Indian culture and life: Dignity, Patience, Endurance, Spirituality, Feeling for the earth, and Concern for the family. From this, Y-Indian Guide programs were born.

In 1926, Keltner organized the first tribe of Y-Indian Guides in Richmond Heights, MO., with the help of Friday and William Hefelfinger, chief of that first tribe. Although it grew slowly at first, the program was eventually recognized as a national YMCA program in 1935. The popularity of Y-Indian Guides grew rapidly in the post-World War II period of 1942 to 1962, guided by John Ledie, national advisor. Many new programs and organizational developments at the local and national levels also evolved during this time.

The rise of the family YMCA following World War II, the genuine need for supporting little girls in their personal growth, and the demonstrated success of the father-son program in turn nurtured the development of parent-daughter groups. The mother-daughter program, now called Indian Maidens, was established in South Bend, IN, in 1951. Three years later father-daughter groups, which were called Y-Indian Princesses, originated in the Fresno, CA, YMCA. Y-Indian Braves, a program for mothers and sons, emerged during the late 1970s and was officially recognized by the National Executive Committee of the National Longhouse at Dearborn, MI, in 1980.

Since 1963, the swift expansion of the program has continued with all these programs, and with a corresponding group of programs for older children. Currently, about 900 YMCAs sponsor 30,000 Y-Indian Guide groups.


About the Programs

Y-Indian programs are a tool for parents that want quality, planned, one-on-one time with their children. Membership is open to every parent with a child K to third grade, third to sixth grade for Trailblazers.

Participation in activities by both parents and child is a vital part of Y-Indian Programs. They share in games, crafts, and campouts. The parent observes their child's relationship in the group, and see the child's strengths and needs, affording a basis for helping the child to grow. Likewise, the child observes the parent in action with other parents and kids. This provides the child with an important role model.



The tribe is the basic organizational unit for Y-Indian program members. Parent and child attendance together is recommended for participation in activities. Tribal meetings are usually held monthly in different members' homes. One parent is selected as chief, and the various tribal offices are delegated to the parents and kids.

The Longhouse is the inter-tribal council organization that supports the program planning of the tribes; that coordinates special events, and that establishes policies and standards.


What the Programs Do

Y-Indian Programs are action oriented. Members develop their own programs, elect their own officers, take turns hosting tribe meetings, and conduct the business of the tribe.

Tribes hold campouts and family outings; visit historical sites and industrial plants; take hikes to parks, zoos, and farms; and plan picnics. Participants learn about American Indian people - their culture, their customs, crafts and games, and seek to bring new understanding and appreciation of the Indians' heritage and contributions to our nation.

Craft projects include making tribal property such as drums, headbands, and vests. Tribes conduct worship services and devotionals, have campfires, and hold induction ceremonies that emphasize the importance of the parent/child relationship.

But best of all, Y-Indian Programs are fun for both parent and child!