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Friday February 16, 2001
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Camp ditches Indian motif
By Clarke Morrison, STAFF WRITER

BLACK MOUNTAIN Ė The totem poles are gone. No longer will camp counselors wear ceremonial headdresses and be referred to as "chief." The age groups are now named for indigenous trees rather than Indian tribes.

Like hundreds of other summer camps across the country, Camp Rockmont has had an American Indian motif since its founding in 1956. But in deference to Indians who believe the use of their sacred imagery is offensive and disrespectful, the campís owners decided to end the practice.

"Even though cultural borrowing is appropriate in certain contexts, itís not appropriate when we demean a race, perpetuate stereotypes or trample the sacred," said Jon Brooks, Rockmontís associate director. "We realized we were an institution that was perpetuating a stereotype.

"We felt no outside pressure to do this. I feel like we are ahead of the curve in the camping industry sort of waking up to this issue. It was the desire to do what is right."

The camp instituted the change last summer, but the directors avoided publicizing it in order to first bring the campís alumni up to speed, Brooks said. While some former campers have been critical, most have been accepting, he said.

"We had to help our longtime campers wake up to the issue," he said. "For the most part, once people were brought into the dialogue about this decision, they were in agreement."

One such former Rockmont camper is Robert Sellers, an instructor at Hardin-Simmons University in Abilene, Texas.

"I am proud that Rockmont has taken this step to be more sensitive to Native Americans and their fascinating culture," Sellers said. "This action and the Christian reasoning behind it makes me even more aware of what a wonderful place Camp Rockmont is and what a terrific impact it has on its campers and staff."

Camp Rockmont, which sits on 550 acres just west of Black Mountain, is the largest private boys camp in the Southeast. It serves about 1,350 campers age 7 to 16 from all over the world each summer.

While many camps use American Indian imagery and symbols, Brooks said he knows of no other camps in the region that have done away with the motif. Don Wood, director of the Southeast region of the American Camping Association, said he is unaware of any other camps that have done what Camp Rockmont did.

"If a camp feels like (removing Indian imagery) is the right thing to do and the respectful thing to do, then we would certainly feel the same way," Wood said. "Other camps may feel like by (using an Indian motif) they are paying respect to the Native American community. I guess each camp looks at it differently."

Brooks said that as recently as 1998 he spoke to a college class in defense of the Indian motif.

"Summer camps create unique communities that impact lives beyond their boundaries, and itís often tough for those of us within those communities to have objectivity when we are evaluating the appropriateness of our long-held traditions," he said. "We were blind to our stereotypes and to our mockery of the sacred traditions of another culture."

But spurred in part by controversies over the use of Indian mascots by public schools such as Buncombe Countyís Erwin High, Brooks and the other Rockmont owners came to believe that using Indian imagery was in conflict with the campís core goals such as character development.

"The increased publicity about the mascot issue enabled us to start drawing parallels with our own program," he said. "It sort of dawned on all of us that we wanted to hold on to the best of our tradition without perpetuating stereotypes. We feel like we are growing within our tradition. Itís no longer within a false Indian context. "

Bruce Two Eagles of the Native American Intertribal Association expressed his thanks to the Camp Rockmont leadership.

"That was really awesome of Rockmont to do that," he said. "They did it just because it was the right thing to do. They showed respect to Indian people after they were educated."

Making the change showed "tremendous vision and courage," said Monroe Gilmour of the Mascot Education & Action Group. "This is their livelihood. Their livelihood is dependent on kids being excited to come there for some reason."

Brooks said most of last summerís campers didnít even notice the totem poles were missing. The hardest thing for them to get used to was the new names for the age groups, such as buckeye, birch and hickory, he said.

Contact Morrison at 232-5849 or CMorrison@CITIZEN-TIMES.com .

WNCCEIB NOTE: You can let Camp Rockmont know what this action means to you: email Jon Brooks, Camp Rockmont

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