Hello, my name is Karen Kitchen and I’m a member of the Osage nation of Oklahoma. I grew up in Oklahoma, but I’ve lived here in Oregon since the early 1980’s. I work as an educator, musician and voice over artist. I’ve work for Portland Public Schools for many years. For the last 15 years I have been at the Indian Education Program, which is a Title VII program. I have the wonderful opportunity to work with American Indians, Alaskan natives, students and their families – grades K-12 – although primarily my focus is high school and making sure that the students get all the credits they need and successfully complete high school and move on and hopefully go to college or some kind of great career path.
I’m a voice over artist, vocalist and sing regularly with the group Border Crossing. We’ve been performing regularly in the Portland area for the last 25 years. Recently I have appeared with The Trail Band. They’ve created a Lewis and Clark themed program and I guest star and sing a wonderful Yakama round dance with them.
Also I’ve been fortunate to get to be involved in some of the theater aspects of the Native community here. I was recently in a program called “Ghosts of Celilo”. A few years ago I was in a Lakota play called “Trail of Tobray”
“As a song carrier, Karen Kitchen is very proud to be an enrolled member of the Osage Nation. Her Osage and French ancestry comes through her mother, and Cherokee ancestry from her father. Her piano-playing grandmother jammed with Bob Wills and Tommy Duncan, her great uncle, Leon Boulanger, was a professional fiddle and mandolin player, and her mother sang everything from lullabies to jazz standards. Family and the rich musical environment unique to Oklahoma shaped her respect and appreciation for a broad range of musical genres.
Osage lands once stretched from the Missouri and Arkansas Rivers, from Mississippi to the Great Plains covering the present states of Missouri, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Kansas. Today, the reservation covers about 2,200 square miles in north central Oklahoma, and is known as Osage County. The landscape consists of rolling hills, grasslands, thickets, deciduous forests, rocky areas and high bluffs, with plenty of water features too–creeks, streams, rivers and lakes. Native trees include redbud, dogwood, blackjack, oak, pecan, black walnut, Osage orange, hickory and cedar. This land supports an abundance of wildlife. Near the town of Pawhuska is a special place known as the Tallgrass Prairie. It is the largest protected remnant of tall grass prairie left on Earth and is home to over 2000 bison.
Karen Kitchen is an accomplished vocalist and member of the musical group Border Crossing. She is very proud of her band, which features guitarist Peter Dammann, bassist Fred Hard, and percussionist Israel Annoh. Her Oklahoma roots led her to explore a variety of musical styles including jazz, blues, international folk, traditional country, Nuevo Cancion, Brazilian sambas, and Native American songs. She studied vocal performance at Le Petit Conservatoire de Mirelle in Paris, France, and sings in several languages including French, Spanish and Portugese.
Karen has collaborated on musical projects with Marv Ross, Arlie Neskahi, Sean StandingBear, and Dave Carter, and is featured in the soundtrack to Gus Van Sant’s film Mala Noche . She has also performed with Niko Wind (Cedar Rose, Wy-Kan-Ush-Pum) and Cuban Dance Ensemble. Musical theater credits include Sacagawea , a production of Oregon Children’s Theater (2003) and Ghosts of Celilo (2005). For 2005-06 she is performing with the Trail Band, providing a Native perspective to their Lewis & Clark themed program.
Karen is a Student Support Specialist for Portland Public Schools Title VII Indian Education Project and committed to making a positive difference in the lives of Native youth. She believes it is important to connect and engage youth with opportunities that support academic achievement, cultural enrichment, and creative expression. She especially enjoys teaching songs and singing with the children in the program’s Native Montessori Preschool. She earned a Master’s of Arts in Teaching from the University of Portland and is a certified K-8 teacher.
For many years, Karen has been actively involved in Oregon’s Native community as an educator, artist, and volunteer. In 2004, she became the Outreach Director for Painted Sky, a not-for-profit organization whose mission is to honor Native American culture by building awareness of traditional and contemporary musical expressions through education and performance, and make it possible for Native children to have opportunities to study music and dance. Painted Sky formed a dance company called the North Star Dancers in the spring of 2005. The dancers perform original choreographed pieces that combine elements of traditional and contemporary Native styles with lyrical, jazz and hip-hop styles.
Music can entertain, educate, motivate, inspire, and heal. Karen is honored to be able to use her gift of song as a conduit for humanity and beauty.”
*Source: Turtle Island Storytellers