I can vividly remember my first Council Ring as an eight year-old Apache camper. The fire in the center was burning bright, illuminating the painted faces of the silent campers and staffers that surrounded it. Each tribe participated in song time, game time, and a time for each camper to advance in their individual Indian ranks. After some 20 or so Council Rings since my first, all of the magic of that night still exists. Now as the Apache tribal leader, I get so pumped up to teach my campers the song we have written for that session or to yell the Apache chant that has been passed down for many years.Council Ring is the epitome of our culture here at WinShape Camps for Boys. All of the tribes, which have their own colors, symbols, and hand signs, will compete on Sunday night of each session for pride and bragging rights. The Apache tribe is home to the youngest campers, with rising 2nd to rising 4th graders. Our colors are red and white, our symbol is an Indian chief, and our hand sign is a closed fist with an open hand behind it to resemble a chief with a headdress on. The Shawnee tribe consists of rising 5th and 6th graders and is represented by orange and brown. Their symbol is the eagle, and their hand sign is made by interlocking your thumbs to create an eagle. Rising 7th and 8th graders make up the green and white Choctaw tribe, whose symbol is a tomahawk and whose hand sign is chopping your arm like a tomahawk. The Navajo is the oldest tribe that stays on campus, and is made up of rising 9th through 12th graders. Their colors are black and gold and their symbol is a bull skull. To make the Navajo hand sign you close your fists and put them together but leave your pinky fingers up to represent a skull with horns. The Sioux tribe, for rising 10th through 12th graders, goes off campus for the majority of their time at camp on various adventures. Their symbol is an X with 4 dots filling in each empty part of the X, their hand sign is crossing your arms like an X, and their colors are red and black.
In order to prepare for their performance, the tribes rewrite popular songs with their own lyrics that pertain to their time at camp and the activities they do. At Council Ring, each tribe is called up one by one to perform their song and their chant. At game time tribal leaders select campers from their tribe to compete in special games as their tribes cheer them on.
The last part of Council Ring is a time for campers to get their new rank. This part of camp is referred to as the Little Chief program. Campers are given the rank of Hunter when they arrive at camp for their first year. This is the only rank that is given to campers, and from that point on they have to earn each rank. There are 9 total ranks a camper can achieve which are as follows: Hunter, Hunter of the Trail, Hunter of the Woodlands, Warrior, Warrior of the Path, Warrior of the Clan, Brave, Brave Pathfinder, and Scout. Counselors are given the rank of Son of Chief, while leadership positions acquire the rank of Big Chief.
The ultimate goal of the Little Chief program is to climb the ranks so one might be selected for the Little Chief test. In order to be eligible, a camper must be the rank of Brave or higher, be at least 13 years old, and have attended camp for 4 years. If a camper is 14 or older, only 3 years of camp are required. It is one thing to earn a higher rank, but it’s a completely different task to be selected for this test. Tribes with eligible campers (Choctaw, Navajo, and Sioux) will talk amongst themselves and select candidates to for the test, whose names are then presented in front of the whole staff to ensure they are worthy of being selected for the test, or as we call it, being “tapped out.” Eligible campers must go above and beyond what is expected, and show the utmost respect, honor, positivity, leadership, and encouragement in order to stand out and be selected.
The test itself consists of multiple parts. Candidates who are tapped out will be woken up in their cabins and taken to Hill Dining Hall, where they are presented in front of the whole staff and cheered on and encouraged. Our director Speedy Trejo reads them a charge, explaining all of the elements of the test and providing some additional inspiration and motivation. The run portion of the test is very physically demanding. Candidates are taken to Lavender Mountain on campus, and must run up the mountain and stay in between Little Chiefs who are administering the test. If a candidate passes the front Little Chief or is passed by the Little Chief in the back, he has failed the test. For the fire portion of the test, candidates are taken to a campsite where they are given one hour to find firewood. After the hour, a Little Chief will come and inspect their fire, making sure it only consists of wood with no straw, leaves, or pinecones. They are a given their first match, and if it lights they must keep it going for six hours. If it does not light, the candidates are given 30 more minutes to reconstruct their fires and find more wood and then they are given a second match. If a candidate does not succeed at starting his fire at this time, he has failed the test. Another portion of the test is a 1500 word essay on the topic of “What WinShape Camps Means to Me.” Candidates articulate what all of their time at camp has taught them, new experiences they went through, and the lasting relationships they built. The remainder of the time during the test is spent preparing for closing Council Ring, which is held on Chick-fil-A Friday Family Fun Day for the parents to catch a glimpse of what our Council Ring during the session is like. The test as a whole lasts about 18 hours, during which candidates cannot make any audible noise. The silence ban is placed upon the candidates at the beginning of the test, and once it is released at the conclusion of the 18 hours, the candidates have officially passed the Little Chief test.
At closing Council Ring, all of the candidates who were selected for the test but weren’t able to pass will receive the rank of Buck and be able to wear a white feather at Council Ring. Next, all of the candidates that were able to pass are given a Little Chief name, which is typically an adjective or verb attached to an animal, (For example, my Little Chief name is Observant Ocelot) a breast plate that they construct themselves, an eagle feather to wear, and a knife that has their Little Chief name engraved upon it.
I think the real value of the Little Chief program lies not in the ranks themselves, but in the process of trying to achieve something great. Recalling my time at camp, I can remember how hard I worked to climb the ranks and get selected for the test. Even after I passed the test, I realized that being a Little Chief doesn’t matter to anyone outside of the WinShape Nation. What is going to matter is my character and the way I live my life to honor my savior, and those are things that I grew tremendously in on my journey in the Little Chief program, and that journey will have a lasting impact on me for the rest of my life.
WinShape Camps for Boys
Apache Tribal Leader