Survivors of Kanakuk Kamps (and affiliated entities) abuse and their allies joined voices in 2022 in an open letter to Joe White, Kanakuk Ministries, and all affiliated entities.
While those who drafted the letter are only a small fraction of the Kanakuk abuse survivors, their collective abuse experiences span from the 1950s to 2022.
Their petition makes three simple pleas in line with longstanding best-practices for responding to policy breaches and abuse allegations:
- Admit to known failures. Publicly address known institutional misconduct, including dismissing clear signs of predatory behavior and child sexual abuse, as well as covering up said abuses once known. Repent of hostile and aggressive behavior and manipulation tactics carried out by Kanakuk officers and on Kanakuk’s behalf that have intimidated and retraumatized victims. Own these actions rather than excusing them as the responsibilities of your legal counsel, insurance companies, or as being at the request of survivors themselves.
- Release victims from their NDAs. Stop the silencing. Victims must be released from NDAs and all similar clauses. Cease the use of all legal intimidation tactics and tools that inhibit healing and limit victims’ voices and truth from reaching the public sphere (see NDAFree.org). We are supported by 25,000+ signatures in this plea: https://www.change.org/p/release-kanakuk-victims-from-their-ndas.
- Invite an independent investigation. Seek and publish the truth. Commission an external investigation into Kanakuk Ministries and all affiliates. A diverse panel of survivors must be involved in this process, including in the selection of a mutually agreed-upon law firm to execute the investigation. Make the process transparent, publish investigation results, and adopt any remedial measures recommended per the investigation.
Non-disclosure agreements, or NDAs, are legal agreements designed to protect sensitive information. They are routinely used to protect corporate trade secrets and intellectual property, but can also be used to silence victims while protecting individuals and companies from public scrutiny. Both World Magazine and Ministry Watch have covered how this practice has become widespread in churches and ministries in order to conceal leader and institutional misconduct. NDAs and non-disparagement clauses usually specify penalties and personal liability on the person who breaks the agreement, in order to reach a financial settlement — essentially paying people for their silence.
Based on evidence introduced at trials and other court hearings, there are likely to be dozens of NDAs and similar tools demanded and enforced by Joe White and the Kanakuk legal team. As a result, the full scope of sexual abuse at Kanakuk Kamps, and the failures of its leadership, may never be known. The camp controls the narrative.
Beyond protecting the identity of victims and their sensitive information, the intimidating Kanakuk NDAs prevent victims from sharing their stories, even in pastoral and therapeutic settings. They are not supposed to write books, speak to the press, or publicly discuss any specifics of their experience, even anonymously.
Critics have also pointed out that non-disclosures prevent the victims of sexual violence and other abuses from shaping what is continually retold and relived through gossip and hearsay — and often after law enforcement investigations, court proceedings, and news coverage have already detailed many specifics to the public. In addition, NDAs can allow a sexual predator or others complicit to move on to another setting where those crimes can be repeated, because facts are withheld in the name of confidentiality.
Greater transparency about the handling of sexual assault allegations can actually break a cycle of abuse. In contrast, a reliance on silencing tools can promote a culture that tolerates and allows such crimes to continue — unknown and unnoticed beyond a small circle.
Unfortunately, that has been the case with Kanakuk.
Kanakuk has traditionally divided campers into “tribes” and used Native American costumes, imagery and terms across many activities, including Joe White’s acts in sermons and ceremonies. There are multiple longstanding Change.org petitions with thousands of signatures urging Kanakuk Kamps to show greater cultural sensitivity and eliminate an outdated means of promoting identity and unity.
Joe White in Native American Costume
Kanakuk K-1 Tribal Ceremonies
Boys Tribal Term 1 at Kanakuk K-1
Rather than integrating socioeconomic groups through scholarships for lower-income children to attend Kanakuk Kamps, Joe White founded a subsidized, segregated set of camps for inner-city children in 1991, called Kids Across America (KAA). KAA also has allegations of abuse. One former counselor claims to have been physically abused multiple times in a crucifixion reenactment known as “Cross Talk.”
More than 90% of KAA campers are African American, whereas more than 90% of the campers who attend the other six Kanakuk Kamps at full tuition are white. KAA programming is augmented from the typical Kanakuk Kamps curricula to include the “Krunk Kastle” and “The Friendship Solution,” targeted at rebuilding trust between urban kids and law enforcement officers, skit characters such as “Krunkisha,” and the slogan “Krunk is spelled K-A-A.”
Kanakuk Kamps describes KAA as “empowering urban youth and their mentors through camping and education.” Police officers are sometimes sent as escorts with KAA campers for their terms due to the “dangerous” nature of the demographic in attendance. Donations for KAA kids are solicited from Kanakuk Kamps families at the end of every camp term.
While scholarships to Kanakuk Kamps are available, they are not advertised to KAA-eligible families. Joe White does offer such scholarships to military children and to families who are known to have endured Kanakuk sexual abuse.