The original Father and Son Y-Indian Guide Program was developed in a deliberate way to support the father's vital family role as teacher, counselor, and friend to his son/daughter. The program was initiated by Harold S. Keltner, St. Louis YMCA Director, as an integral part of Association work. In 1926 he organized the first tribe in Richmond Heights, Missouri, with the help of his good friend, Joe Friday, an Ojibway Indian, and William H. Hefelfinger, chief of the first Y-Indian Guide tribe.
The interest of those workers in the father-son relationship stemmed out of YMCA pioneering efforts at initiating a father-son banquet idea in 1912 at the Providence, Rhode Island YMCA. It was stimulated further through the Father and Son Library series compiled by Lansing F. Smith of St. Louis and Frank Cheley of Denver. Inspired by his experiences with Joe Friday, who was his guide on fishing and hunting trips into Canada, Harold Keltner initiated a program of parent-child experiences that now involves a half-million children and adults annually in the YMCA.
While Keltner was on a hunting trip in Canada, one evening, Joe Friday, the Indian, said to his white colleague as they sat around a blazing campfire: "The Indian father raises his son. He teaches his son to hunt, to track, to fish, to walk softly and silently in the forest, to know the meaning and purpose of life, and all he must know, while the white man allows the mother to raise his son." These comments struck home, and Harold Keltner arranged for Joe Friday to work with him at the St. Louis YMCA.
The Ojibway Indian spoke before groups of YMCA boys and dads in St. Louis, and Mr. Keltner discovered that fathers, as well as boys had a keen interest in the traditions and ways of the American Indian. At the same time, being greatly influenced by the work of Ernest Thompson Seton, great lover of the our-of-doors, Harold Keltner conceived the idea of a father-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. Thus, the Y-Indian Guide program was born over half a century ago.
Although the father-son program grew slowly at first, Y-Indian Guides was recognized as a national YMCA program in 1935 with the advocacy of Abel J. Gregg, then National Boys' Work Secretary. But the rapid growth of the program across the country was guided by John A Ledlie, national adviser, in the post World War II period of 1944 to 1962. With the significant assistance of a devoted group of able National Long House officers, many new programs and organizational developments at the local and national level evolved. Since 1963 the swift expansion of the program has persisted. Over 30,000 parent-child groups have been reported annually by nearly 900 YMCAs from coast to coast.
The rise of the Family YMCA following World War II, the genuine need for supporting little girls in their personal growth, and the demonstrated success of the father-son program in turn nurtured the development of YMCA parent-daughter groups. The mother-daughter program, called Y-Indian Maidens, was established in South Bend, Indiana, in 1951; three years later father-daughter groups, called Y-Indian Princesses, emerged in the Fresno YMCA of California.
Although some Y-Indian Guide groups had extended their father-son experiences beyond the first three grades from the beginning, it was not until 1969 that the Y-Trail Blazers plan was recognized by the National Long House Executive Committee for sons 9 to 11 years old and their fathers. In the future, expansion of YMCA parent-child groups will continue as a positive force in strengthening family life.