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West Virginia 4-H youth experience Eastern Woodland Indian traditions

This summer West Virginia 4-H campers learned about the first people to inhabit what is today the Mountain State. 

4-H camp

West Virginia University’s Native American Studies Program partnered with WVU Extension Service to host a Native American Eastern Woodland cultural expert at county 4-H camps in June.  

With the state's American Indian/Alaska Native population estimated at less than 1%, West Virginia youth have few opportunities to learn directly from Native American educators about the earliest residents of the region.     

4-H camp

“Stereotypes and misinformation regarding Native Americans do a disservice to youth seeking a more accurate understanding of indigenous histories and cultures,” said Bonnie Brown, the project’s director and coordinator of WVU’s Native American Studies Program. “The project was an opportunity to provide culturally-informed education and perspectives, underscoring that modern-day Native Americans descend from individuals who lived here for thousands of years before Europeans arrived. Many Americans don’t realize that today there are more than 570 federally recognized tribes in the U.S., and dozens of Native languages are still spoken throughout the country.” 

4-H camp

Brown and John “Joe” Candillo, an American Indian Eastern Woodland cultural expert, traveled to Braxton, Cabell, Kanawha, Mason, Roane and Wayne counties to give presentations at 4-H camps.

The estimated 600 campers experienced, through interactive learning, the history, communities, agricultural practices and other traditional aspects of Eastern Woodland Indians – the first people to call West Virginia’s mountainous green forests and river valleys “home.”  

“The 4-H campers were such a delightful bunch of young men and women,” Candillo said. “They were eager to learn about Native American culture along with respectful ways of depicting aspects of the culture.” 

4-H camp

The campers were engrossed by Candillo’s discussion of daily life for early Natives, including village structure, gender roles, trade, sports, transportation and natural resources. They also learned about examples of material culture such as canoes, dwellings, clothing and hunting tools. Candillo brought replica artifacts for the youth to handle and passed around several samples of animal pelts. 

Brown and Candillo also introduced the campers to basic terms from the various languages of the Eastern Woodland peoples, including Algonquian, Siouan and Iroquoian dialects. Each camper received an Eastern Woodlands word search game and a take-home booklet containing common greetings in Native languages, maps, a list of wild edibles (such as pawpaws, berries and nuts) and websites for tribes with roots in the region.

“It’s clear the 4-H camp directors and staff work very hard to create meaningful experiences for their campers. We really appreciate being included in this summer’s programming and receiving support from the West Virginia Humanities Council,” Brown said. “As a college educator, it was invigorating to experience the young campers’ abundant energy and curiosity within the beautiful camp settings.”

4-H camp

“It is important for us to provide high-quality educational programs to our youth who participate in 4-H,” said Brent Clark , director of 4-H youth development at WVU Extension Service. “This partnership exemplifies WVU’s land-grant mission by educating youth and adults throughout West Virginia.” 

This project was presented with financial support from the West Virginia Humanities Council, a state affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities. Any views, findings, conclusions or recommendations do not necessarily represent those of the West Virginia Humanities Council or the National Endowment for the Humanities.