The YMCA Responds

In cultural appropriation, Indian Guides, YMCA by Adrienne K.13 Comments

(image source)

On Tuesday, I sent my local YMCA this letter asking them to remove an offensive picture in their fitness facility and to reconsider the overt cultural appropriation and racism in their “Indian Guides” programming, which I initially wrote about here.

I was pleasantly surprised that less than an hour after I sent the email, I received a response directly from the Executive Director:


Thank you for writing this letter and bringing these most critical things to my attention.  Please know I apologize on behalf of the Y and will do everything to ensure this is changed.

I am meeting with my staff tomorrow and will have a response to you then regarding the action we are taking.

Again, thank you. 

That was Tuesday afternoon, so I’m still waiting to hear what was decided at the staff meeting, but a good first step, don’t you think?

Pretty cool.

UPDATE 6/10: The Associate Executive Director of the Y emailed me to ask if we could set up an in-person meeting:


I am the Associate Executive Director for the [name] YMCA. My supervisor, [Executive Director] has shared with me your letter and we have met to discuss the issues in which you have brought to our attention. I have also shared your letter with [employee] who directly supervises the program.

We would like to set up a time to meet with you to further discuss and work together to accomplish a positive outcome. If you are open to meeting with us, please let me know your availability next week.

Thank you for your time,

Unfortunately, I’m in Boston, so I’m hoping we can set up a phone call to talk more. What I’m worried about is that they’ll ask for a compromise, because it doesn’t seem feasible to change the entire culture of a program like the Indian Guides overnight–but I don’t know what a middle ground would look like, or if it’s even possible. I’d welcome any ideas.


Hoya, Hoya Cultural Appropriation! Or why suburban white folks shouldn’t play Indian.
Dear YMCA, I haz the sads.

  • That is really encouraging! I can’t wait to find out what they decided.

  • I’m so glad you got such a quick response. I hope the outcome is positive.

  • Admittedly, it does sound like a stock response the ED chose out of a stack. I’d say give it till Monday, and if you hear nothing, keep badgering.

    It’s so different when it’s your hometown pulling the fast ones.

  • I hope they go with the high road.

  • Lovely work! Yes, do remind the Director that you are due a response. Thanks for challenging the authority of history.

  • The national offices put an end to this years ago. They asked local offices to end it, too, but did not demand it. Surely your local office knows all this. They chose to ignore the national policy.

    They’re definitely going to try to persuade you to compromise. And after the meeting they’ll be able to say they spoke with you. They’ll use your name and the mtg for their own ends. Many Native people have been suckered in to such things.

    There is no compromise. No reason to meet.

  • No compromise but if they’re serious about change, perhaps they could include some ‘real’ Indians in the teaching aspect. Otherwise it’s a mockery and they’ll only be teaching the Y curriculum of what “Indian” culture is.

  • I agree with Debbie. The problem with meetings like this in my experience is they tend to just create more work for the person bringing the issues to light. Just remember your letter highlights obligations THEY have to indigenous people, and it is their responsibility to meet them, not yours or any other indigenous person or group. there are things they can do right now to get those camps to stop or change and they should have been doing it long before getting a letter like yours.

    Sure they can get advice and consult but ultimately they have to do the work to change the organisation themselves and not rely on you to do it.

  • I agree with Debbie and Bihinix aswell.

    It is the first time I am commenting on your wonderful blog, which educated me as a white women from and in Germany a lot. (So also pardon my bad English, it’s not my mother tongue..) I want to comment now, because I know the tactic they are using quite well from racism problems in Germany. The company/organization/etc./ tries to turn the problem into the personal problem of the complainer. By asking you now to help to make it better, they rely only on your experience/opinion and don’t actually look at the systematic opression/discrimination. They did something wrong, you pointed it out, now they should work it out.

    With this response it feels rather as they try to deal with YOU but not really with the discrimination against Native people in the U.S.

  • I also had an issue with my local YMCA in Raleigh, NC where they still have the Arapahoe Nation and Indian Princess/ Indian Guides program for kids ( I had a face to face meeting with the program director several years ago, but nothing ever cam of it, probably because I just didn’t have the energy or the time to fight this battle. It was absolutely mind boggling to me to see that a national association was still using this type of imagery, and promoting stereotypes. It is no wonder that kids grow up with warped perceptions of Native people. I hope that your battle is more successful than mine. I no longer live in Raleigh, but I feel bad for the kids growing up there and other places across the country who participate in these kinds of programs. Best of luck to you!

  • It’s funny…when I stumbled upon this blog some months ago, the first thing I thought of was the Indian Guides program. My dad and I participated when I was young, and I remember feeling strange about it. We had “Indian” names (Big Stag and Little Doe), did war dances and pow wows, and learned to live off the land (pick blueberries).

    It was all very much play acting…using fake Indian culture as a motif. And yes, it was a heck of a lot of fun, but every activity could have been done in a different way that wouldn’t have felt so…icky.

    Keep in mind, I have no native heritage. So if this little white girl at seven or eight could tell the whole vibe was off, then I’m not sure why the directors even needed to be told.

  • This brings to mind my brothers’ experiences in Boy Scouts. There was a special Boy Scout camp in Kansas or Missouri that they attended in the 90s. The vast majority of those leading and attending were white. They had this “secret” “indian” tribe called the “Micasays” and you had to go through TOTALLY SECRET rituals to become a member, and only as an older scout. The Micasays then had free rein to appropriate any real or fake notion of Native Americanness and “perform” shit for the younger boys.

  • what’s the skinny? any updates?