History of the Program

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.