Our History

The Father and Son Y‐Indian Guide Program was developed in a deliberate way to support the father's vital family role as teacher, counselor and friend to his son. The program was initiated by Harold S. Keltner of the St. Louis YMCA as an integral part of association work. In 1926 he organized the first tribe in Richmond Heights, Missouri, with the help of his friend, Joe Friday, an Ojibwa Indian, and William H. Hefelfinger, chief of the first Y‐Indian tribe.

Inspired by his experiences with Joe Friday, who was his guide on fishing and hunting trips to Canada, Harold Keltner initiated a program of parent‐child experiences that now involves a quarter of a million children and adults annually in the YMCA.

While Keltner was on a hunting trip in Canada one evening, Joe Friday said to his colleague as they sat around a blazing campfire: "The Indian father raises his son. He teaches his son to hunt, track, fish, walk softly and silently in the forest, 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 for Joe Friday to work with him at the St. Louis YMCA.

The Ojibwa Indian spoke before groups of YMCA boys and dads in St. Louis, and 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, being greatly influenced by the work of Ernest Thompson Seton, great lover of the outdoors, Harold Keltner conceived the idea of a father and son program based upon the strong qualities of American Indian culture and life‐‐dignity, patience, endurance, spirituality, feeling for the earth and concern for the family. Thus, the Y‐Indian Guide Program was born.

The rise of the Family YMCA following World War II, the genuine need for supporting young girls in their personal growth and the demonstrated success of the father‐son program, in turn nurtured the development of YMCA parent‐daughter groups. The mother‐daughter program, now called Y‐Maidens, was established in South Bend, Indiana, in 1951; three years later father‐daughter groups, which are now called Y‐Princesses, emerged in the Fresno YMCA of California.

In 1980, the YMCA of the USA 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 grades from the beginning, it was not until 1969 that the Y‐Trail Blazers plan was recognized by the National Long House Executive Committee for sons 9 to 11 years old and their fathers. Trail Maidens, Trail Mates and Co‐Ed Trail Blazers have also been developed and recognized in YMCAs across the country. Most recently, the Adventure Guide Program has been expanded to include preschoolers and their parents in the Y‐Papoose Program.

In the 80 years since Harold Keltner devised the concept of Indian Guides, the program has flourished around the country. As time passed, traditions developed all across the country, with some groups taking the “Indian” theme to the extreme and others emphasizing the “Indian” component only where it seemed to make the most sense. In the late 1980s, Native American lobbyists and individuals pled with the YMCA to drop the “Indian” theme from their program explaining that the program often stereotyped. The YMCA of the USA dropped its support of the “Indian” theme and moved to an adventure theme. Although the name has changed to Adventure Guides, the ideas behind the program and many of the traditions remain the same.

Learn about the Adventure Guides Program Structure at our Program Structure page.

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