Native Americans not just a page in history, says Nokomis Learning Center

Sep 16, 2013

A display at the Nokomis Learning Center.
Credit Nancy Camden

The word Nokomis means grandmother in Anishinaabe. The Nokomis Learning Center in Okemos, Michigan does what grandparents do in native culture; they pass down the education, the wisdom and the traditions.

The pioneer and Native American Heritage Festival is in the Meridian Historical Village in Okemos, Michigan on Saturday, 10am to 3pm. Admission is free. The Native American Nokomis Learning Center  is a part of the festival.

“We primarily represent the People of the Three Fires,” says Don Moore. “the Ojibwe, up north around Lake Superior and in Canada, the Ottawa toward the center of the state and the northwest part of the state and also the Potawatomi who are generally now in the south, southwest part of the state.”

The learning center is hands on with porcupine quills, examples of wigwams made in craft class, a small replica of a birch bark and cedar canoe and a piece of wood that was gnawed on by a beaver. There is an example of a Native American invention of lacrosse or "battagataway." 

“We have a gallery of contemporary art and also a lot of crafts,” Moore says. “And we’re all dedicated to the woodland style, the woodland natives.”

Contemporary art is represented by people like Dennis Christy, a Saginaw Chippewa who works in marble, soapstone and bronze and Anna Crampton, a very respected black ash basket maker, whom Moore says has ‘walked on.’ Paleo Indians are represented by archaic objects from anywhere from 10,000 to 6,000 BC including two axe heads that can be passed around during tours because of how heavy and durable they are. A great deal of the artifacts at the Nokomis Learning Center are on loan from Greg Zimmerman.

“My dad was born in 1907," Zimmerman says. “My grandfather was full blood. He went through re-education and assimilation. He was taken away from the family, put into foster care. Going back to the traditional ways in learning things has given me a great foundation for life.”

Zimmerman helps with educational programs and has his art work and crafts at the center. As a traditional dancer, his regalia are displayed as well.

“This year at the end of the demonstration pow-wow, we are going to hold a round dance and we are going to try to involve as many participants as we can, that come to the heritage festival,” Moore says.

Edwin Taylor of Walpole Island in Canada will be playing guitar and singing Anishinaabe songs and five Native American vendors will be at the Nokomis Learning Center.

“One of the things that is really important for us here at the Nokomis Learning Center is to let people know that Native Americans were here and they continue to be here," says Moore. "They are very present. They’re not something that goes away after you turn in the history book.”

Music in this story is from the album Dance With Us by Northern Winds. They are an Ojibway drum group that originate from the Lake of the Woods area in Ontario, Canada.