The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has found that the West Virginia University Extension Service’s 4-H camping program, which incorporates certain Native American references, does not violate the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The decision is in response to a February 2002 complaint that alleged discrimination, misuse and misinterpretation of Native American imagery and customs in West Virginias 4-H camping program.

The USDA approved changes that WVU Extension voluntarily made to its 4-H program following the complaint. The changes were intended to strengthen the educational components of the program’s long-standing traditions and lift up respect for Native American culture and history.

A final report received by WVU Extension administrators June 13 from USDA s Office of Civil Rights notified the complainant Wesley Harris and WVU of itsfinal agency decisionfinding no violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

As we begin the summer camping season, we are pleased to have the news that the USDA s Office of Civil Rights has closed this complaint and further stated that our current program does not violate civil rights,said Debbie McDonald, WVU Extensions state 4-H program leader.Were proud of our West Virginia 4-H traditions and practices. This issue has helped us to strengthen our camping program, which is one of the strongest 4-H educational programs in the nation.

WVU Extension conducted two studies of its 4-H camps and the use of Native American imagery and themes in camp programs.

A 4 -H Camping Advisory Committee, composed of more than 40 4-H leaders, volunteers, alumni and members of the Native American community, reviewed camp practices.

A second group researched all aspects of 4-H camping that had any connection to Native American culture. McDonald oversaw that study.

We researched each custom to determine its authenticity,McDonald said.If a custom was not authentic or a practice could be perceived as stereotypical of Native Americans, we discontinued using it in camps.

A statewide 4-H camping guide was also developed to addresses policies, Native American-based themes, ceremonies and award systems. All WVU Extension faculty, staff and volunteers involved in 4-H camps have participated in mandatory training on camping and use of Native American customs and themes.

Commenting on the ruling, WVU President David Hardesty saidpeople who work in our WVU Extension offices across the state and who are volunteers with 4-H work hard to provide positive, high-quality youth development experiences for our young people, and will continue to do so.

USDA officials conducted a thorough review of WVU Extension 4-H programming in summer of 2002, including on-site visits to camps and extensive interviews with participants and leaders.

In its recent finding, the USDA Office of Civil Rights (CR) stated thatwhile the Extension Service did not completely eliminate Native American references in its program, CR finds that with the changes, the program does not violate Title VI.

West Virginia 4-H is a year-round, nontraditional educational program involving 56,000 youths in community clubs, after-school programs and special-interest groups. More than 7,200 adult volunteers serve as mentors. About 12,000 West Virginia young people participate in 90-plus 4-H camps around the state each summer.