The Indian Guides program was established in 1926 as a way to ensure that hard-working fathers stayed involved with their son’s lives. The program was developed by Harold Keltner of the St. Louis, Missouri YMCA, with the help of, and based on the example of his friend Joe Friday, an Ojibway Indian. According to Joe Friday, "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."

Keltner designed the 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. The Indian Maidens, a sister organization for mothers and their daughters was established in South Bend, Indiana in 1951. The Indian Princess organization for fathers and daughters got its start at the Fresno, California YMCA in 1954. Finally, in 1980, the US national YMCA recognized the need for an Indian Braves organization for Mothers and Sons.

Use of the Native American Theme

There is currently some controversy over the use of traditional Native American names and themes in the program.  Participants in the Indian Princess program are encouraged to find positive and respectful ways of using the Native American theme in their activities. In addition to selecting tribal and individual names, program activities often include Native American crafts, artwork and storytelling.

While a tribe may participate in a variety of events over the course of a year, the Native American theme has been an instrumental part of the program for three-quarters of a century. That's saying quite a bit considering the changes that occurred in American society over that time. In 1926 when the Y programs began, the world was a very different place.  Yet the program, which is entirely a volunteer organization, has continued to win the interest and involvement of parent and child alike, regardless of the world of distractions that surround us, and has remained largely true to its original intent to the present day.


The following letter came from a former Indian Princess and was addressed to a YMCA Program Director many miles from here.  While this took place several years ago, the date matters less than the content, which captures the essence and objective of what the Y-Princess Program is all about.


January 30, 1994

Dear Director of Indian Guides/Princesses Program,
When I was a little girl, I absolutely loved being an Indian Princess. I got excited when members of the Zapotec tribe delivered an invitation to our monthly meetings, I grew ecstatic when the meetings were at my teepee, and I literally lost sleep because I couldn't stop thinking about jeep rides and sharks teeth the week before we went to Camp Sea Gull. And although I knew a long time ago that I would always remember how much fun I had in the Indian Princesses, it was only recently that I realized just how much those memories really meant to me.

Last week, my suitemate and I decided to take a study break and go get some yogurt at TCBY. In my three years at Meredith College, my friends and I have grown accustomed to such ventures (sometimes called procrastination). While my friend and I sat eating our yogurt, a tribe of Indian Princesses came in to get yogurt as well. I recognized the colored feathers and vests immediately, and I commented to my friend that I was once an Indian Princess myself. To my surprise, she informed me that she, too, was an Indian Princess at one time. You can imagine our excitement.

As we began trading stories, my mind became flooded with memories of the years I spent in the Indian Princesses with my dad. I told my friend about saving Quaker Oatmeal boxes to make tom-toms for our invitations, about how my dad would stop at Dunkin Donuts after work and bring home doughnut holes to serve as refreshments when we had meetings at our teepee, about the fried chicken dinner my dad and I cooked for our family to earn our feathers, and even about the yellow birdhouse my dad and I built that is still in our backyard. She had similar stories that she shared with me, and we both laughed at how funny it was that we remembered such specific things.

While we sat reminiscing, I watched the little princesses sitting and talking and laughing with their dads. I wanted so desperately to tell those little girls to treasure each and every moment they spent with their dads. I wanted to tell them that I would give anything some days to be a little princess again, to be with my dad throwing bread to the sea gulls from the Joyboy. I wished I could let them know that the time their dads are spending with them now is probably one of the most precious gifts they will ever receive.

When I got home that night, I called my dad to tell him about seeing the Indian Princesses. We talked for a few minutes about some of the things we used to do together and I told him that those memories really meant a lot to me. But what I wished I had told him is that they meant the world to me. I wanted him to know that as long as I live I will cherish the years we spent in the Indian Princesses together. I realize now how lucky I am to have a father that so willingly gave so much of himself for me. I wish I had told my dad that the bond that formed between us during those years was the foundation for the friendship we share today. I wish I had let my dad know that he is the most wonderful father in the world and that I love him with all my heart.

I went to bed that night feeling like I had so much I wanted to say to those little princesses and to my own dad, but I didn't. I guess that is why I wanted to write you this letter. I think the Indian Princesses program is the greatest. I hope all big braves will continue the special bond they have formed with their princesses long after the days of winter innings and kite flying days are over.

Thank you from the bottom of my heart for making such a program possible. I will always think back to the years when my dad and I were Lone Star and Brave Star and smile. It is such a good feeling to know that my dad and I will be FRIENDS ALWAYS.

Catherine N. Davis