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New indigenous center serves Native education
The Indigenous Circles United community center is open from 8 a.m.-8 p.m. daily, with specific hours set aside for certain programs. There are also monthly fees. For more information, call the center at 458-8741 or visit www.facebook.com /IndigenousCirclesUnited.
Joe Luna is getting a practical, vocational education at the recently opened Indigenous Circles United community center in Colusa.
On this particular day, Luna was learning to put designs on T-shirts, which in turn are sold to support the center.
Founders Rich Regudo, who was training Luna, and Amanda Mitchum see it as part of an holistic educational approach, one that also is steeped in cultural lessons from the students' Native American backgrounds.
"Our mission statement is to sustain indigenous cultures through applied traditions while acknowledging and providing ample opportunity for personal growth and educational excellence," Regudo said.
"The way we generally explain it to people is it is a cultural center with a basis in wellness, culture, higher education and sustainability."
However, it is open to any student in the county, and Regudo and Mitchum strongly believe the cultural elements of the center benefit everyone.
In short, it is not political.
"They can come to a place where they feel welcome," Regudo said.
The privately funded K-14 operation, located in a 7,500-square-foot storefront at Market and Seventh streets next to Davison's Drugs & Stationery, has no specific tribal connections.
Mitchum is part of the local Cachil Dehe community, while Regudo's heritage reaches back to the Miwoks, a coastal tribe in California.
The couple come to the center from different starting points, but have a common goal.
"The need has been there for years," Mitchum said.
"So some parents and I put together a proposal for a private school and it didn't go through, and we started to adjust it," she said.
Regudo had worked in the mainstream public education system for a number of years before getting involved in his father's Native American program, which Regudo operated.
The same passion he had working at schools, he said, translated to the Native American program.
When Mitchum and Regudo met, he took a look at the school proposal, and found that it had a lot of the same energy and goals he wanted to have in his own program.
"Our priority has always been the kids, not just education or the cultural, because to us the cultural thing is an everyday thing," Mitchum said.
Regudo said he massaged the proposal a bit with his understanding of the educational system, and the foundational documents were completed.
The couple have been together for three years — and in a cultural sense consider themselves married — with six children, one of whom is their own.
A year ago, the two opened an after-school program, from which the cultural center was born.
The whole thing fell in place very quickly, and holding an informal opening Sept. 1 with friends and family and some local dignitaries.
"In six months, we had a fully functional, fully operational community building that would be available to Colusa County," Regudo said.
The educational curriculum meets the California standards requirement, but the center also features archives and other material from Native American history, a meditation room, which Regudo said has already helped some students do better taking tests.
Regudo said he and Mitchum work with Maxwell Unified and other schools with their students, and hope eventually to build partnerships with all school districts, the county Office of Education and area community colleges and universities.
A couple of UCLA students, who have ties to the North State, helped develop the math and science curriculum for the center.
Among the archival items on display is the pounding rock that belonged to Mitchum's grandmother, an essential part of the community's daily life.
Students learn that heritage from a practical standpoint, and Mitchum said their nature outings have as much spiritual meaning as it does the practical lessons of history and anthropology.
In addition to the native items, the center has partnered with the Colusa County Arts Council and has artwork from that group on display.
And the River Partners work with the center.
"They come in and show the kids about the plants and animals, and then we step in and teach them how they were used," Mitchum said.
The center even has a recreation area with a pool table and air hockey, which the students earn the right to use. It is also open to senior citizens.
The center has applied for nonprofit status. It has registered with the state Secretary of State's Office and is just waiting for the paperwork from the IRS.
That will add the flexibility of offering donors a tax break on their support, and makes the center eligible to apply for certain federal grants.