By: Joanna Cerar “Zebra”
After returning from Sealth in July, my nieces FaceTimed me to tell me all about their session. Mixed in with descriptions of the staff and campers they’d met, their horses, and all the things they liked about camp, my 14-year-old niece remarked, “It was a week where we could be ourselves.” Awww, yeah. That simple statement nailed the essence of camp.
Ideally, Sealth is a place that welcomes all participants: a safe space where everyone can exist – and grow – as their authentic selves. At Alumni Day in June, about 25 past campers and staff got to meet current summer staff members and experience that community. The young adult staff were friendly and excited to meet their first campers. Orchard was freshly mowed. The recently renamed office building had a new “Base Camp” sign out front. By Green Circle, a Pride flag was curling in the breeze in celebration of Pride Weekend in Seattle. It was wonderful to be there.
After lunch, Rick Taylor, Executive Director, and Carrie Lawson, Director of Camping, gathered the alumni. They presented a request: Would we be willing to remove the shields in Rounds Hall?
It was a request that had been a long time coming. The wood shields have covered the walls of Rounds for decades. They were created and “retired” by Horizon club members as their Camp Fire groups graduated from high school. For some alumni, the shields represent precious memories, personal achievements, and shared experiences. In their designs, many of the shields also use decorative symbols inspired by Native American culture. While those symbols were never intended to cause harm, camp leaders have increasingly heard from youth, staff, and community members that the shields’ presence made them uncomfortable. In recent years, it’s become clear that displaying the shields was at odds with our goal of creating inclusive spaces for all participants.
It is hard to let go of the past and the rich history of the camp’s 101 years, but our focus must be on the children who belong at camp now. Camp Fire has a rich tradition of evolving to meet the needs of youth where they’re at. This is part of that evolution: While we knew that the shields were representations of cherished memories, we also knew that those memories already have permanent homes in our hearts.
Removing the shields opens the place to enable today’s youth to learn, grow, and create their own cherished memories in a safe and inclusive space.
And so, the shields came down. With some tall ladders and many hands, the shields were removed from their nails and placed on carts for storage. It didn’t take long. When it was all done, I looked around. After decades of seeing the shields, I was curious how the walls would look without them. I was pleasantly surprised. Rounds’ century-old wood interior was revealed. Along with the afternoon sun and lights strung from the rafters, the space felt both old and new – and a place for both past and future campers, staff, and alumni to belong.
Every era has its challenges and successes. Camp Fire has always encouraged independent thinking and inclusivity. And it’s always evolving. This is an opportunity to dig deep: How can we truly make camp accessible and welcoming to all participants? Addressing Camp Fire’s cultural appropriation is a part of that. The process can be uncomfortable at times, but it is necessary to keep us moving toward true inclusivity.
Some of camp’s place names, songs, ceremonies, and visual symbols are changing. However, what they represent remains the same: friendships, fun, and adventures in the outdoors. All of this is part of Camp Sealth and Camp Fire’s history. It won’t be hidden; sharing it with future generations helps give the full picture of our growth as an organization.
This is a dynamic time to be a part of the Camp Fire community. It’s one of the reasons I joined the Board of Directors this year. At camp and beyond, so many people are working to make our organization successful. Every time I visit camp, I feel a renewed sense of optimism for Sealth and for the future. I hope you feel the same.
Joanna Cerar “Zebra” is a former camper, staff member, and Program Director. She is now a member of the Board of Directors and loves being a summer camp nurse. Stephanie Lingwood “Fish” also contributed to this article. Fish is also a former camper and staff member, who can still be found at the waterfront of any camp she visits.
What’s next for the shields and Rounds?
The shields are being stored at camp with the intention to return them to their creators (if desired) or will go into the camp archives as part of the camp’s history. As for the walls of Rounds, they will remain bare for a while until the whole camp community (campers, staff, alumni, leadership, board, and community) can decide what takes the place of the shields. We want Rounds Hall to be a space that truly reflects the diversity and unique authenticity of everyone for whom Camp Sealth holds a piece of their heart.
If it’s been a while, please consider dipping a toe back into camp life! As we enter Sealth’s second century, alumni are important partners in camp’s growth. Camp only gets better with more perspectives and generations represented. The alumni page is a great place to start. We have many opportunities to participate, whether you live nearby or across the world.