The YMCA Indian Guide program for fathers and sons was developed in a deliberate way to support the father's vital family role as a teacher, counselor, and friend to his son. The program was created in 1926 by Harold S. Keltner, director of the St. Louis YMCA, as an integral part of association work. While Keltner was on a hunting trip in Canada one evening, Joe Friday, a friend and American Indian, told him as they sat around a blazing campfire: "The Indian father raises his son. He teaches his son to hunt, track, fish, walk, softly and silently in the forest, know the meaning and purpose of life and all he must know." These comments struck home, and Harold Keltner arranged for Joe Friday to work with him at the St. Louis YMCA.
Joe Friday spoke before groups of YMCA boys and dads in St. Louis, and Keltner discovered that fathers, as well as boys, has a keen interest in the traditions and ways of American Indians. At the same time, being greatly influenced by the work of Ernest Thompson Seton, a great lover of the outdoors, Keltner conceived the idea of a father and son program based upon the strong qualities of American Indian Culture and life-dignity, patience, endurance, spirituality, feeling for the earth, and concern for the family. In 1926, Keltener organized the first Indian Guide "tribe" in Richmond Heights, Missouri, with the help of Joe Friday and William H. Hefelfinger. Harold Keltner developed a program that now involves about 180,000 children and adults annually in the YMCA. In 1954 a dad and daughter program called Indian Princesses was added. In 1969 the first Trail Blazer program started. In the later part of the 20th century, staff and participants across the country expressed concern regarding the use of another culture as a theme for a YMCA program. Several Native Americans also shared their concerns. In 2000 YMCA of the USA began a three-year observation and overview of its parent-child programs. With the support and input of local YMCAs, in 2003, YMCA of the USA launched YMCA Adventure Guides, a new direction in parent-child programs. YMCA Adventure Guides captures the intent and magic of the original program - a deepening bond between parent and child. Many hope that this new direction will appeal to a wider audience of families.