Native American Influence at Storer

Native American Influence at Storer

Storer Camps has a long history in celebrating the history and culture of Native Americans, long before it was ‘politically correct’ to do so. Not to say that using ‘Indian’ themes in a Summer camp setting wasn’t wildly popular for a time, (see the YMCA’s own ‘Indian Guides’) but it was Storer’s approach that was the difference between emulating a set of cultures versus caricature.

Looking back at when I was learning about American Indians in elementary school social studies, the month of November was often the only time students learn about Native Americans.  The coursework was inevitably wrapped up tidily with the many myths surrounding the first thanksgiving between the natives and European settlers in 1621 http://www.history.com/topics/thanksgiving/mayflower-myths . From this typical curriculum, Indians were viewed at best quaint and at worst, primitive; Always referred to ancient times, a culture from the past. Little mention was made to the atrocities committed against North America’s Native Peoples or where the Indians were in present day culture. Answer: Native Americans were largely relegated to reservations and marginalized with only romantic images presented in popular culture. (View famous ‘Crying Indian’ commercial, infamously played by a second generation Italian American https://youtu.be/j7OHG7tHrNM ).

 

Luckily, Storer approached Native Peoples from a historical, educational point of view whose narrative ran contrary to what was mostly reflected in the elementary school textbooks of youth in the 1970s & 1980s. I cannot recall during any ‘Indian’ (Native American) educational programs at Storer where the Native Americans were typecast in the role of bizarre, perpetual savages. Camp Storer smartly embraced the local history that was so influenced by Native Americans.  For this region of Michigan (and the Great Lakes) the influence of Native American’s is inescapable. As Author Virgil J. Vogel wrote in Indian Names in Michigan “Most of the Indian names borne by Michigan’s cities, counties, lakes, and rivers are those of Indian tribes and individuals. Settlers named places not only for the resident tribes, but also for tribes in the states they had left, and even for tribes in the West that they had never seen.”. Even the state’s name, Michigan, is based on a Native American (Chippewa) word; “meicigama” (meaning “great water,” referring to Lake Superior).

Examples of influence:

Michigan Counties
Missaukee, Newago, Oscoda, Genesee, Muskegon, Sanilac, Lenawee, Huron, Keweenaw, Shiawassee, Ontonagon, Kalamazoo, Ottawa, Otsego, Menominee, Mecosta, Saginaw, Mackinaw, Cheboygan, Osceola, Chippewa, Ogema, Gogebic, Washtenaw.
Places
Allegan, Alpena, Cheboygan, Gobeic, Kalamazoo (Ke-Ken-a-ma-zoo), Keweenaw, Mackinac, Mecosta, Menominee, Ogemaw, Otsego, Porcupine Mountains, Sanilac, Tahquamenon, Ahmeek, Juniata, Manistee,   Menominee, Muskegon, Newago, Okemos, Onekama, Owosso, Petosky, Pontiac, Tawas City, Wyandotte.

 

During my time as a camper ’79 -’88, I think that Storer’s approach to Native American educational programs were no doubt influenced and buttressed by the Native American activism started in earnest in 1969. At that time, a conglomerate of Native People’s took over Alcatraz Island, a U.S. Federal property, in San Francisco.  The 19-month occupation of Alcatraz “in the name of all American Indians” brought the plight of Native People’s to mainstream attention. Other notable key Native American protests of the day include:

  • 1970 demonstration on Mount Rushmore. https://youtu.be/3Wd1uLgV7mc 
  • 1972, protesters from the Trail of Broken Treaties Caravan occupied the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) offices in Washington, D.C. for six days.
  • 1973, about 250 Sioux Indians, led by members of the American Indian Movement, converged on South Dakota’s Pine Ridge Reservation, launching a 71-day occupation of Wounded Knee.

I’m not saying that Storer always got it right, as there is a fine line between emulation and reductionist romanticism. But overall, Storer’s approach to the subject of Native Americans was well meaning and age-appropriate, grounded by respect for many Native American groups’ shared ideas, beliefs and values.

One of the most popular theme days at camp revolved around the different bands or tribes of Indians. The day was filled with stories, lore, history and games (with educational elements snuck in). Everyone had an Indian name and adopted a cabin symbol, sampled fried bread, made corn necklaces and learned about the importance living harmoniously with nature. For example, we learned how the Indians lived off the land, planting, harvesting and storing key crops like corn.

We were exposed to the challenges of gathering food, tracking and hunting. Furthermore we learned about treaties, the importance of discussion, compromise and responsibility for one’s actions. Who can forget whether the ‘bird lives or dies…it’s in your hands’? Needless to say, the Native American educational programs made an impact on this kid from Maumee. Storer’s handling of the subject matter went beyond some common tropes of the day, as evidenced in the lining of my first camp sleeping bag, which was adorned by cowboys and Indians.

In 1979, I spent my first summer at Camp in the Indian Village. Our Village Director, Bill Riccobono, was our Sachem.  We swam at Indian Point (sometimes called Miami Beach) and we relished the waters from the artesian well.  We even had our own pony barn beyond Earl’s Marsh. The Indian Village, set west of the main dining hall, was made up of 7 cabins: Comanche, Tecumseh, Pawnee, Chippewa, Pontiac, Kiwanis, and Miami (my first cabin). The other villages in camp were the Potawatomi (‘Did you say Potawatomi?’) and Ottawa. Although cabins and villages were renamed through the years, there was always a strong Native American influence at play.


To learn more about the first inhabitants of the region, please see the companion blog: Native Americans in the Great Lakes Region

What are some of your reflections on Native American lore at camp?

Do you remember the day devoted to American Indians? 

What ‘Indian Day’ games or activities do you recall?

Please share your thoughts and use your ‘Indian’ name.

 

 

 

Reading through this blog, you’ll notice that most of the time the term “Native American” is used to describe the first inhabitants of this continent. Sometimes, however, the term “Indian” is used.  While most scholars prefer to use Native American most of the time, sometimes the term “Indian” is more appropriate. To note, Native Americans sometimes use the term “Indian” or “American Indian” to describe themselves and that interchangeability is reflected here.

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