Native American traditions

When Heart O’ the Hills Camp was just a concept, Director Kitty Magee gathered her most camp-experienced friends, notably Diane Martin Baker and Mary Butterworth, to establish all of our beloved traditions. They settled on a Native American theme, and named the Pawnee and Shawnee Rosie-horsebk-smTribes after tribes that had at one time or another passed through these hills. The Lodge, Indian Dwellings, Abrigo and Adobe Village all got their names because of this theme.

As a college student, I had the opportunity to take an interesting course on Native American studies. In my reading, I came across the concept of “orenda” and was immediately captivated (Kitty, Di and Butter were so smart! How did they know these things?). Orenda comes from the Iroquois and is not a notion that can be easily summarized, but my own brief interpretation at the time was “healing spirit”. Perfect name for our wellness center!

Since that time, I have come across another interesting practice that we at Heart O’ the Hills borrow from Native Americans. I read that it was customary for the squaws to gather their daughters on the highest hilltops, where they would sit and talk about important things. We call that “tribe hill”! “The Heart’s” tradition was longstanding before I read that it was a real thing, and I was delighted.

There was also a blip in a book* I read by pair of brothers who had been kidnapped by Apaches and Comanches in the Hill Country. Among other things, their story describes in detail how Indians celebrated after an important occasion by singing, dancing, yelling, and beating on drums. Sounds to me a lot like our pep rallies and the Front Lawn ceremony after Tribe Hills.

One more discussion I paid close attention to at the national convention of American Camp Association. As most people know, Indians deserving
merit earned feathers for trust, honor, strength, wisdom, power, and more qualities. It would be disrespectful to hide the feather; by wearing it in their headbands, they would be reminded of how to behave. A young brave with only one or two feathers wore theirs hanging down from the headband. But a warrior whose headband was abundantly filled with feathers—such as our Chieftains’ headdresses—would sometimes opt to wear one or two feathers pointing upward as a symbol of distinction. Sometimes feathers were attached to a pole to carry if the headdress filled up. Just like camp!

There has been a good bit of national discussion about Native Americans being parodied by summer camps, schools and other organizations. We have had Native American counselors and campers in the past, and I have quizzed them about how they feel in The Heart’s treatment of Native Americans, and they have confirmed that they felt respected and honored rather than spoofed. As long as we continue to esteem and educate, I hope that Kitty, Di and Butter’s portrayal of the Indian theme can continue here!

*“The Boy Captives,”  Clinton L. Smith, original copyright 1927. The Boy Captives Being the True Story of the Experiences and Hardships of Clinton L. Smith and Jeff D. Smith Among the Comanche and Apache Indians During the Early Days- The Only Two Brothers Ever Known to Endure the Same Hardships of Captivity and Get Back Alive.

About the Author

Jane Ragsdale

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Jane Ragsdale (Mrs. Dick Howell) is the director of Heart O’ the Hills. She was a Heart camper and counselor, and served as program director from 1978-87. She has been one of the owners since 1976, and director since 1988.

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