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The Camp Fire Girls and the Appropriation of Native American Culture

By Marianne Lyons, VI Form

The Camp Fire Girls and the Appropriation of Native American Culture

American camping associations are iconic. The camping movement from its inception and in all its forms has shaped American culture. In fact, I have had the privilege of attending Wyonegonic Camps in Denmark, Maine for the past ten years. 

This past year as a counselor, I had the opportunity to pass down traditions directly to my campers. As part of this, I once took my cabin to my camp’s cramped museum, which holds the artifacts of Wyonegonic’s 120-year history. My campers humored me by asking questions about the different songs and pictures that covered the walls.

One of my campers paused as her hand hovered over a blurry, black and white picture. She called me over, and I studied the image. It was dated 1919 and showed a small white girl in Native American traditional dress. I paused. I thought hard about what to do and what to say next. Native American dress, lore, and appropriation are integral to the long history of the American camping movement. I didn’t know how to summarize and convey that history to my wide-eyed ten-year-old camper, but I knew I had to explain. I called my cabin over to the picture and opened up a conversation. I covered why this photograph might be offensive and encouraged the girls to share their perspectives. This conversation wasn’t easy, but it was important for my campers to understand the complexities of our shared history. 

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