While we’re on the topic of removing stereotypical images of Natives from the NFL, we need to talk about indigenous appropriation in summer camps.

Most summer camps built in the early 20th century are based on a program called “The League of Woodcraft Indians,” created in 1901. The founder of Woodcraft Indians was Ernest Thompson Seton who was (obviously) a white man.

The program was specifically designed for non-native boys and incorporated harmful beliefs about natives during that time. The league took cultural elements from a variety of different tribes and combined them to create a generalized, infantilized stereotype of “Indians” as simple, noble, nature lovers.

This approach also reinforces the harmful idea that Natives are a historical artifact. They are not. They are part of our present, and still struggling to preserve their own culture today.

Some would argue that these representations are based on admiration for Native culture. I do not agree.

While there’s nothing wrong (at all!) with teaching kids how to pitch tents, build fires, and speak up in weekly campfires, doing so under a veil made from a vague understanding of Indigenous culture is helping no one. It’s also diminishing the very serious practice of Native American spirituality, which is extremely sacred, by turning it into a game for predominantly white children.

Let’s also take time to remember that Native Americans are survivors of atrocities so extreme that approximately 20 million people were murdered. That’s 95 percent of their population.

To put that in perspective, when the Nazis killed six million people, the word “genocide” was invented.

Imagine if, after the Holocaust, Aryan kids in Eastern Europe went to “Camp Hasidic” or “Camp Kabbalah” and learned simplified and stereotypical interpretations of Jewish spiritual practices.

What if kids wore yarmulkes as costumes?

What if they re-wrote sections from the Torah and turned them into children’s stories?

What if they played a game called “Nazis vs Jews?”

What if they did all of those things mere miles away from where so many bodies were burned?

Why would anyone be complicit with the decimation and oppression an entire race of people and then use their culture as a toy for children to play with?

Doesn’t that seem exceptionally cruel?

Then why do we ignore summer camps whose name is inspired by Native tribes they have no affiliation with? Why do we ignore the use of totem poles as decoration? Why do we casually reference spirit guides and pow wows and wear native headdresses? Why do we call camp directors “chief?” Why do we tell children’s stories and pass them off as Native American mythology?

I worked for a summer camps in my early 20s. I feel so much affection for that time in my life and the people I met as a result of it. But I’m ashamed that I never spoke out against appropriation that I witnessed.

I should have. I’m sorry.

There are many things about summer camps I will defend. But I think this needs to be addressed. And I think something needs to change.

— Special to the Press Herald

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