Cow Creek Umpqua Tribe’s children’s book spans generations, promotes early learning
The colors are vivid, the text is basic and the pages are sized just right for little hands. But “Takelma Together” is more than a simple children’s book. It’s an example of how a nearly lost language, Native American tribe and Oregon educators came together to help preserve cultural tradition.
The book has 17 illustrated pages, each with a Takelma word and its English translation. The back cover provides a phonetic translation for each word in the Takelma language, which is the official language of the Cow Creek Umpqua Tribe.
Yet the language faded into obscurity when its last known speaker died in 1934. Cow Creek members recently learned that Takelma was preserved by the Smithsonian Institution. Since then, the tribe has been scheduling classes and making other efforts to revive this important piece of its heritage.
Enter “Takelma Together.” Produced in June 2015, the book was the result of a quick decision on the part of Tammie Hunt, education director for the Cow Creek Band of Umpqua Tribe of Indians. Hunt learned in December from Gillian Wesenberg, director of the South-Central Oregon Early Learning Hub, that a Family Support Services grant was available through the Hub, which has been part of Douglas Education Service District since July 2014. Both the Cow Creek tribe and Douglas ESD are DCPSS partners.
Hunt realized any proposal would have a better chance of success if it were in alignment with the Oregon Educational Board Equity Lens. This essentially meant “we had to match the state’s vision on equity in education,” she said. A book for children ages 6 and younger, and one that introduced parts of speech stretching back over past generations, seemed like a good fit.
But the turnaround was tight. Hunt and the tribe had about two weeks to write the grant proposal. They met the challenge, and funds became available in early February. The $18,360 grant paid for the cost of producing the books as well as wages and other costs to employ a tribal connections resource coordinator for early learning.
Wesenberg said it’s been rewarding to watch the progress of the book from its concept through the final product. In addition, she’s pleased the Hub could be part of this milestone in the tribe’s efforts to reclaim a piece of its heritage.
“It’s been exciting to see this project develop, particularly considering how it fits into the vision of the Hub,” Wesenberg said. “We value our partnership with the Cow Creek Umpqua Tribe. This partnership has enabled us to focus on that important age group, from prenatal to kindergarten, and to promote inclusiveness.
“That’s important to us for all cultures, and especially for the Cow Creek tribe. We’re so pleased to be part of this effort.”
Several considerations shaped the eventual design Hunt chose for “Takelma Together.” Hunt said she chose words that could be pronounced easily and phonetically. She also wanted images that would capture the imaginations of young readers. So a bear (mena) and fox (yola) appear in the pages, and numbers one through five, because higher numbers are more difficult to say.
In coming up with ideas for illustrations, Hunt drew on her previous experience as a middle school art teacher. But she wanted to tap an important cultural resource in completing the artwork. Through the tribe’s cultural department, she connected with Cow Creek elders who were taking a language class at the Education and Work Force Center in Myrtle Creek. Five tribal elders agreed to lend their talents, each signing their artwork on the finished pages.
“We think it’s important that the tribal elders pass their knowledge on to our youth,” Hunt said. “They enjoyed it, and as generations see the books and pass them down, they will look at the signatures and be able to say, ‘My grandfather’ or ‘my grandmother was part of this.’’’
In addition, Hunt said the project has enabled the tribe to broaden its educational focus.
“We’ve been concerned with post-secondary education and sending students to college, and this has really opened our awareness that we needed to put some efforts toward early learners,” she said. “This gives us an opportunity to reach our very young youth.”
Initial printings of “Takelma Together” are available to tribal members on request. They also are being distributed to local elementary schools for checkout. Copies of a second printing can be purchased for $6.99 each at the Cow Creek Government Offices, Suite 100, 2371 N.E. Stephens St., Roseburg. The office accepts only cash or a credit card. Call the tribal office at 541-677-5575 for more information.