History of the Adventure Guides

The 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. 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, Mo., with the help of his good friend, Joe Friday, of the Ojibway tribe, and William H. Hefelfinger, chief of the first Y-Indian Guide tribe. Inspired by his experiences with Joe Friday, who was his guide on fishing and hunting trips to Canada, Harold Keltner initiated a program of parent-child experiences that now involves a quarter of a million children and adults annually in the YMCA.

Harold Keltner and Joe FridayWhile Keltner was on a hunting trip in Canada one evening, Joe Friday said to his colleague as they sat around a blazing campfire: "The Ojibway 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, 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.

Friday spoke before groups of YMCA boys and dads in St. Louis, and Keltner discovered that fathers, as well as boys, had a keen interest in the traditions and ways of the Native American. At the same time, being greatly influenced by the work of Ernest Thompson Seton, great lover of the outdoors, Harold Keltner conceived the idea of a father and son program based upon the strong qualities of Native American culture such as: dignity, patience, endurance, spirituality, feeling for the earth and concern for the family. Thus, the Y-Indian Guide Program was born.

The rise of the Family YMCA following World War II forced the genuine need for supporting young 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, now called Y-Indian Maidens, was established in South Bend, Ind., in 1951; three years later father-daughter groups, which are now called Y-Indian Princesses, emerged in the Fresno YMCA of California.

In 1980, the YMCA of the USA recognized the Y-Indian Braves Program for mothers and sons; thus completing the four programs and combinations in Y-Indian Guide Programs.

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. Trail Maidens, Trail Mates and Co-Ed Trail Blazers have also been developed and recognized in YMCAs across the country. Most recently, the Y-Indian Guide Program has been expanded to include preschoolers and their parents in the Y-Papoose Program. The programs include:

  • Y-Indian Papoose - Parent and Preschool Child
  • Y-Indian Guides - Father and Son
  • Y-Indian Princess - Father and Daughter
  • Y-Indian Braves - Mother and Son
  • Y-Indian Maidens - Mother and Daughter

Many YMCAs have developed parent-child programs similar to those listed above; but have oriented the program around a non-Indian theme. In the future, it is hoped that expansion of YMCA parent-child groups will continue as a positive force in strengthening family life.