Indian Youth of America (IYA) summer camps provide Native children ages 10 to 14 with cultural, educational and recreational opportunities as well as positive guidance and mentoring from an all-indigenous staff.
Since its founding in 1978 in Sioux City, Iowa by Patricia Gordon, who today serves as IYA’s executive director, the camps have served Native children and youth from 203 tribes and 34 states creating thousands of memories that will last their lifetime.
“For many American Indian children, the prospect of going to camp is out of reach because of the high cost,” said Patricia. “IYA makes camp affordable to American Indian youth by subsidizing each child’s camp experience with a scholarship.
“IYA’s summer camps provide American Indian children with an alternative to spending the summer at home… often with no entertainment, recreation or job opportunities. The summer camps provide a variety of positive activities…
“The campers are provided with the opportunity to receive personal guidance and mentoring from an all American Indian staff and learn from special guests who come to camp to share their songs, dances, stories, games and cultural traditions.”
IYA and Patricia are dedicated to improving the quality of life for Native children by providing them with opportunities and experiences, such as the summer camps, that will aid them in their educational, cultural, professional and personal growth while fostering a positive sense of self and heritage.
This belief is expressed in IYA’s axiom:
“They are young once but Indian forever.”
While IYA’s headquarters is located in Sioux City, the summer camps have been held annually at the Prescott National Forest in Arizona and the Black Hills of South Dakota for the past 42 years.
In 2018, IYA hosted two camps for 182 campers, staff and special guests representing 39 tribes from 12 states. During the course of the camps, campers participated in arts & crafts classes, hoop dancing, creative writing and healthy living workshops.
In addition, they took part in morning stretching exercises, volleyball, basketball and stickball tournaments, canoe races, a “watermelon hunt,” and, of course, nightly campfires.
Activities also included paddle boating, swimming, fishing, hiking and field trips to Goldwater Lake, Slide Rock, Black Elk Peak and Wind Cave. In past years, campers learned from and were entertained by a Native ventriloquist/magician and puppeteer, traditional rap artists and motivational speakers, as well as Native storytellers, Native champion hoop dancers, Native singers, flute players, and even a Native comedian.
“We know that what we do is important to the American Indian youth and families that we serve,” says Patricia. “This would not be possible without the support we receive from Running Strong.”
Voices from the campers:
“Over my previous six years as a camper I’ve learned countless things and met hundreds of people. My favorite thing about IYA will always be that despite all the new faces and new people that you see, it will always feel like home.
“Talking to your new cabin mates and soon becoming good friends before the first day ends, and no matter how shy or awkward you are, you always feel comfortable around everyone.
At IYA, you’ll always have a voice as a Native and will be treated as equal and important as everyone else, which is one of the many reasons why I love coming back year after year. IYA will always have a place in my mind and heart.” – Apache-Navajo camper
“Camp, a place to meet new people of different tribes, genders and backgrounds. We put troubles and doubts aside for 10 days to unite as one people. We’ve experienced moments in our lives we’ll never forget.
“Every moment helps us grow, the good and the bad. We’ll remember how our stomachs would ache after laughing like no one was looking. The nervous feeling that’d overcome us as we’d perform our skits, and the sense of ease when the room would echo with laughter. An experience that will help us grow for the greater good as people and Natives. Many bonds were formed and memories were made that will never fade.” – Gila River camper
“My summer camp at IYA 2018 was very fun and exciting. I made a lot of friends and met a lot of new people. We play sports, got injured and won a championship. I had some friends become family. The saddest part will always be leaving all my new family members and not seeing them for a whole ‘nother year. It was the highlight of my year.” – Standing Rock camper