Addressing Native American Culture at Camp Jorn

Camp Jorn has a passionate community and long-standing traditions. As we learn and grow as a society and as an organization, we strive to create an environment where every person feels welcomed, respected and understood. With this in mind, it is important that we evolve to ensure our traditions align with our core values and goals to create an affirming and inclusive environment for all, while also honoring the rich history of the Native People who first inhabited the land. 

Camp Jorn, like so many other camps in the country, has used Native American themes inappropriately. It is time for us to make corrections and prepare a path to greater appreciation. We are guilty of using Native American names and artifacts as decoration, entertainment, and in a way that tokenizes the existence of Native people. We have not used these Native American themes to educate our campers and staff, and we can no longer justify the use of them.

We acknowledge that there is a long history of oppression of Indigenous peoples in Wisconsin and in the United States. Camp, like many others, has exploited the local Native American cultures and, in fact, has used tribal names from all over the country as cabin names. We have continued a tradition of storytelling about Native American people that we have never fully understood. Our intention was never to inflict harm, but we acknowledge that harm can be inflicted without intent. It is time for us to right our wrongs. 

Camp will continue to be the same special place you remember, and we also must aim to reinforce Camp Jorn’s goal of creating an affirming and inclusive environment for all. Therefore, we cannot engage in this kind of cultural appropriation and that means we will:

  • Change the cabin names to creatures of the Northwoods and attach a value so that cabin names can be more meaningful and supportive of our mission of building character. For example, Kickapoo will become Eagle and have the cabin value of wisdom.
  • Move the Chief Thunderbolt (also known as Kolijah) statue to a non-public viewing area and add an educational plaque to articulate its 70+ year history here at Camp. A new bear statue will be placed at the flagpole.
  • Move the totem-pole from public viewing. We also realize that it has been used for “entertainment” and decoration at Camp which is a problematic generalization of Northwest Coast specific cultures. 
  • Honor and acknowledge the Ojibwe as the original owners of the land that Camp Jorn occupies and pay respect to their past, present and future generations. It is our goal to embrace and provide learning opportunities for staff training and camper experiences. A land acknowledgment statement will be permanently displayed in the Dining Hall. 

This is joyous work! We are not doing this from a place of shame but have concluded that we can simply do better.

This work and the recommended changes are being done with the full support of the Board and leadership staff. Below are just a few of the resources available to support our education and understanding. As we continue to learn and grow, we anticipate more changes may be needed, and we look forward to the opportunity to create a world of greater peace, justice, and equity. Thanks for your continued support of kids and Camp. The JOuRNey continues.  

If you have any questions about how camp made this decision, we highly encourage you to read through some of these materials:

Saad, Layla:  Day 13 You and Cultural Appropriation