Y-Indian Guides History
The Y-Indian Guide Program was developed in a deliberate way to support the father’s vital role as teacher, counselor and friend to his son. The program was initiated by Harold S. Keltner, Director of the YMCA in St. Louis.  In 1926 he organized the first tribe in Richmond Heights, Missouri, with the help of his friend, Joe Friday, an Ojibway Indian, 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 into Canada, Keltner initiated a program of father/son experiences that came to involve fathers and sons throughout the United States.


The Ojibway Indian 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 Native Americans.  At the  same time, being greatly influenced by the work of Ernest Thompson  Seton, great lover of the out-of-doors, Keltner conceived the  idea of a father-and-son program based on the strong qualities of  American Indian culture and life, which involved dignity, patience,  endurance, spirituality, feeling for the earth and concern for the  family.

Princess Program Emerges in 1954

After World War II, the rise in YMCAs that served the whole family, the need for supporting young girls in their personal growth, and the demonstrated success of the father/son program nurtured the development of the father/daughter program.  The first Y-Indian Princesses were formed in the Fresno, California YMCA in 1954.  Today, as then, the Princess Program affords an unusual opportunity for the concerned and busy father to facilitate growth in a daughter’s development and an understanding of the world around her. 

Y-Indian Guides Becomes YMCA Adventure Guides
For 75 years, the Y-Indian Guide program was the cornerstone for family programs in YMCAs across the country.  Due to changing diverse family structures; an evolving cultural sensitivity and better understanding of Native American history, in 2001, the board of directors of the National Council of YMCAs (also known as the YMCA of the USA) accepted recommendations from a task force to change the name. The program purpose was also formally defined: to foster the father/child relationship.  YMCA of the USA enlisted the help of YMCA staff and volunteers nationwide to craft an alternative program.  YMCA Adventure Guides is the result of a two-year research and development process.

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