The Free Press, Mankato, MN

September 22, 2013

Powwow artist maps ties to homelands

Nakoma Volkman considers Mahkato wacipi a top event

By Edie Schmierbach
eschmierbach@mankatofreepress.com

---- — MANKATO — Nakoma Volkman's maps were hand-drawn invitations to spend some time at his booth on the southwest end of the annual Mahkato wacipi during the weekend. Shoppers studied the detailed document and the faces of indigenous people the artist drew near the sites of their original homelands in North and Central Americas and the Caribbean.

Most everyone who stopped by had questions for the vendor, a 74-year-old man from Rochester. Volkman sells reproductions of his works and his wife, Kati, sells crafts such as as dream catchers made from traditional materials as they travel a yearly vendor circuit throughout the country.

His posters feature "Native American Ten Commandments," "An Indian Version of the 23rd Psalm," "Pathway to Wisdom" and "The Diversity of Life." More than 950 tribes are represented on the map, "Native Tribes of North America, Central America and the Caribbean," which has been a bestseller for the self-taught artist.

"I consider myself a writer who happens to draw," Volkman said.

"I wanted to create a map of the historical locations of each tribe — their homelands. Of course, our people were always on the move. I wanted to show their predominant locations before the changes — before the reservations, before there was the United States."

Historical research for the map took years. When it came time to pull all his notes together, Volkman worked long stretches without much sleep, sometimes up to a week non-stop.

"My first version had 550 tribes. I kept studying and later on I added 400," he said.

For his next project, Volkman would like to create a similar map of South America, using information gleaned from his "tons of books" on its tribes.

When he was a young man in the Peace Corps, Volkman served in South America. Later, he studied community organization during his college years in Chicago and became active in American Indian centers in Chicago and southeastern Minnesota. Since his retirement from Kahler Corp., where he was a security coordinator, Volkman's devoted his time to studying, writing, lecturing and powwows.

Volkman grew up in Wisconsin. His heritage is a mixture of German, Scottish, English, Chippewa and Crow and he went by the name "Neil" when he was a child. After his adoption by descendants of Chief Red Cloud of the Oglala, he began to use the name "Nakoma." The cultural traditions of the Anishinabe-Lakota traditions have had a great influence on his life.

Students from a human relations class at Minnesota State University formed a circle around Volkman Saturday as they sat on the grass floor of a tipi that housed some of the powwow's education programs.

"I want to get rid of the stupid stereotypes," he said. Volkman referred to familiar scenes in old movies. It just wouldn't make sense for Indians to ride in circles around a wagon trail — they would be easy to shoot. Nor would lndians on horseback hit themselves on their mouths while make whooping noises — that would hurt.

Hollywood got it wrong.

"I tell them the reality," Volkman said.

His program was only part of the students' weekend experience. They arrived Friday to help direct traffic as visitors entered the park and watched Saturday night's grand entry before their fry bread lesson.

"The program offered a lot of history," said Marisol Rojas, 20, a student from Gustavus Adolphus College and a Project Gem intern. Throughout powwow weekend, Rojas assisted Alice DeYonge, the project's program director.

For 28 years, Volkman has set up a booth at the Mankato fall event, which he described as one of the best inter-tribal gatherings.

"It's very traditional and down to earth — there's no big fanfare. We have good times dancing and there are serious times as well," Volkman said.

Powwows and their education programs are a key to the survival of the culture of indigenous peoples, he said.

"We aren't just reliving the past, we are creating the future," Volkman said.