As the school year begins and students start rolling in, opportunities for education aren’t just limited to the classroom. This fall the Springfield, Cottage Grove, and Creswell libraries are teaming up with Singing Creek Educational Center to broaden Native cultural education and understanding with the Acorn Circle Library Program.
Singing Creek Educational Center is located in Cottage Grove and was founded by Karen Rainsong, Singing Creek’s executive director. Rainsong moved to Eugene 30 years ago and originally was an art teacher, but always had a vested interest in Native culture. Eventually, Rainsong began working at Dorris Ranch in Springfield, and during her time there she learned about the Kalapuya.
“That just really sparked a passion for (Native culture and education) since I’ve always been very connected to the earth,” Rainsong said.“I started learning everything I could and doing a ton of professional development on my own time, going to museums, talking to Native people, going to powwows, reading books about Native history, and just really immersing myself in it for a long time.”
Rainsong isn’t Native, but collaborates with the Native communities to represent the culture in an accurate and culturally sensitive way.
“I’m very careful about our training materials and making sure that they are also vetted by the curriculum specialists at the tribe and others in the community,” Rainsong said. “It’s very important to me that we are cautious and humble so that we are appropriately representing these cultures and educating people in the best possible way.”
Rainsong founded Singing Creek Educational Center in 2015, which resulted from Rainsong’s time as the coordinator for the Alvord Farm and Museum, a 25-acre homestead and working farm in Eugene, from 2007-2015.
“I refined our programs and offerings there, so later we became a non-profit,” Rainsong said regarding her time at the Alvord Farm and Museum. “We had all of that background to draw on and all of the materials and resources that people had donated and that we’d acquired over the years.”
Rainsong named Singing Creek after a book written by Opal Whiteley, called The Singing Creek Where the Willows Grow. Whiteley was a pioneer in the late 1800s and early 1900s who lived in Cottage Grove and was considered a prodigy in her time for her astounding writing at a young age. Her book, “The Singing Creek Where the Willows Grow” was a nature diary written by Whiteley when she was a child.
“Her vision was really connecting kids with magic, and mysticism of nature and animals and plants,” said Rainsong.
Rainsong traced her lineage and found that she was distantly related to Whiteley by marriage. Rainsong, who is related to Daniel Boone, discovered her potential connection to Whiteley after reading in a book she too was related to Daniel Boone. After doing the genealogy, Rainsong discovered that she was in fact related to Whiteley.
“It just made sense, since I loved her diary already, to call it Singing Creek Educational Center in her honor to carry on that vision of inspiring children,” said Rainsong.
Singing Creek is located primarily in the Cottage Grove and Creswell area but also does work throughout the state, having their programs requested in classes and libraries in cities such as Roseburg and Portland.
As well as the Acorn Circle Library Program, Singing Creek also offers homeschool classes, history-based summer camps, field trips, and in-classroom presentations. This fall Singing Creek’s Acorn Library Program will aim to bring Native American cultural education to the future changemakers in our world.
The Springfield, Cottage Grove, and Creswell Libraries will each be hosting three educational programs for children 6-10 years old, starting in early October. The program’s curriculum includes storybooks from the Confederated Tribes of Grand, a performance and presentation by Deitrich Peters from the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde, and crafts that apply to the curriculum. The program will be rooted in place-based learning to show younger generations the importance and history of Native culture in local areas.
“We want kids to understand that this is a rich, vibrant culture that is still here that this land is and was Kalapuya land.” said Rainsong.
Local libraries resonated with Singing Creek and the Acorn Circle Library Program’s mission and were eager to aid with providing Native cultural education to a younger crowd.
“Karen reached out and asked about doing this kind of program at the library and I was excited to be able to get a program that featured Indigenous culture,” said Lindsay Quigley-Johnson, the youth and community services librarian at the Creswell Library.
“I see our library as a platform to be able to give (Native people) who have that kind of knowledge the ability to educate and speak on their history and their identity and what that means,” said Quigley-Johnson.
As well as the Creswell Library, the Springfield Library also aims to promote Native cultural education.
“We do try to collect books that talk about Indigenous peoples as living cultures from their perspective, both nonfiction and fiction writing by Indigenous peoples as part of our collections,” said Springfield Library’s head librarian, Natasha Chitow. “We try to have a wide variety of perspectives and cultures, just to give people a little bit of a taste outside of what their experience may be.”
The Creswell, Cottage Grove, and Springfield libraries will all be providing unique sessions put on by Singing Creek Educational Center staff and Deitrich Peters. At the Creswell Library three sessions are scheduled for Oct. 5, 19, and 26 at 3:30 p.m. The Cottage Grove Library will hold sessions at 3:30 p.m. as well on Oct. 11, 23, and Nov. 8, and the Springfield Library will hold sessions on Oct. 13, 27, and Nov. 17 at 1:30 p.m.
Singing Creek Educational Center is looking for new volunteers and board members as well. If the mission of Singing Creek resonates with you, email [email protected] for more information.