Use of indigenous images and cultural items at youth camps

How to make changes to the misappropriation of Native American, American Indian and Alaskan Native culture at youth camps.

This past spring, the American Camp Association National Conference, “Envision”, was held in Atlanta, Georgia. The ACA is “a community of camp professionals who, for over 100 years, have joined together to share our knowledge and experience and to ensure the quality of camp programs.” Through this conference, participants learned from Anna Homayoun, founder and director of Green Ivy Educational Consulting, how to set healthy boundaries when engaging students on social media tools such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. She also discussed practical solutions to managing children’s interaction in the digital world. Another great opportunity included the chance to co-present with Anne Henningfeld,  co-director of recreation, and Eric Hemenway, archives and records director, Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians on “Native Americans representation at camps”.  Our presentation illustrated the misappropriation of Native American, American Indian and Alaskan Native culture at youth camps. We discussed what is happening on the ground and brainstormed methods to address the misappropriation. Examples of misappropriation include:

  • Using the names of tribal nations  to name camp cabins
  • Using traditional clothes, such as bonnets with feathers, as part of a coming of age camp activity
  • Replicating games that were traditionally used by tribal nations in ceremony, education and/or story telling
  • Using totem poles at various spots and for various reasons

There are several methods to address the misuse of Native American, American Indian and Alaskan Native culture at camps:

  • “Plant a tree” is a suggestion that Anne Henningfeld has given as a method to replace items such as the totem poles.
  • Replace tribally-focused activities, markers and names with an environmentally-focused theme.
  • Transition camp cabins from tribal nations names to names of indigenous birds. 
  • Craft opportunities for conversations to occur with your camp and local community members to ensure that everyone is aware of these changes and the reason why.
  • Contact tribal nations and communities to which you are interested in learning more about to tell their stories and teach their culture and language.

This change may be a process, so try different things out and request feedback. Change can be difficult, so help your campers, staff and alum to understand this is a growing process. Once changes are made, it is important to move forward to honor your camp’s mission and vision.

To learn more about Government and Public Policy programs offered through Michigan State University Extension,please contact Emily Proctor, Tribal Extension educator with questions or comments at (231)-439-8927 or

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