The first Y-Guide Program (originally called Y-Indian Guides) was developed to support parents’ vital role as teachers, counselors, and friends to their children. Harold S. Keltner, St. Louis YMCA Director, initiated the program as an integral part of Association work. In 1926, he organized the first tribe in Richmond Heights, Missouri, with the help of his good friend, Joe Friday, an Ojibway Indian, and William H. Hefelfinger, chief of the first Y-Indian Guide tribe. Inspired by his experiences with Joe Friday, who was his guide on fishing and hunting trips to Canada, Harold Keltner established a program of parent-child experiences that now involves several hundred thousand children and adults annually in the YMCA.
Joe Friday planted the seed for this program during a hunting trip he and Mr. Keltner took to Canada. One evening, the Ojibway said to his white colleague as they sat around a blazing campfire: “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 he must know, while the white man allows the mother to raise his son.” These comments struck home, and Harold Keltner arranged to work with Joe Friday at the St. Louis YMCA. The Ojibway Indian spoke before groups of YMCA boys and their fathers in St. Louis, and Mr. Keltner discovered that fathers, as well as boys, had a keen interest in the traditions and ways of the American Indian. At the same time, Harold Keltner, being greatly influenced by the work of Ernest Thompson Seton, great lover of the out-of-doors, conceived the idea of a father-and-son program based upon the strong qualities of American Indian culture and life—-dignity, patience, endurance, spirituality, harmony with nature, and concern for the family. Thus the first Y-Indian Guide program was born more than half a century ago.
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 nurtured the development of YMCA parent-daughter groups. The mother-daughter program, then called Y-Indian Maidens, was established in South Bend, Indiana, in 1951. Three years later, father-daughter groups, then known as Y-Indian Princesses, emerged in the Fresno, California YMCA. In 1980, the National Longhouse recognized the Y-Indian Braves Program for mothers and sons, thus completing the four programs and combinations in Y-Indian Guide Programs.
Although some Y-Indian Guide groups had extended their father-son experiences beyond the first three school grades from the beginning, it was not until 1969 that Y-Trail Blazers was recognized by the National Longhouse Executive Committee for nine- to eleven-year-old boys and their fathers. Trail Maidens, Trails Mates, and Coed Trail Blazers also have been developed and recognized in YMCAs across the country.
The Big Teepee Federation offers a Coed Trailblazer program for children in Grades 5 – 8. This program encourages parent and child activities without the individual tribes used in the Guides and Princess programs. These activities are more advanced and challenging for the older children. They still include campout weekends along with special monthly activities as an entire group.
In 2001, some groups around the US challenged the national YMCA to drop the Native American theme. The claim was that imitating the native American tribes is disrespectful. Our programs have chosen to retain the Native American theme. We have enlisted the assistance of local and national Native American groups to help us refine our program. We will continue to learn about the many outstanding qualities of the Native Americans in a way that does not dishonor the past or present tribes.
The group of Y-Guides and Y-Princesses that serve Naperville and the surrounding suburbs (including but not limited to Lisle, Aurora, Plainfield, Oswego, Batavia, Geneva) are all part of the Big Teepee Federation. This is the volunteer, parent-led organization that administers and organizes our activities. The group is made up of six nations. There are three Guides and three Princess nations. The Guides nations include the Plains, Lake and Forest. The Princess nations include the Desert, Mesa and Prairie nations. Each nation consists of approximately twenty tribes. The six nations take turns volunteering to organize and lead the various monthly Federation sponsored events.