The Nokomis Learning Center preserves Great Lakes Indigenous history

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The Nokomis Learning Center (5153 Marsh Road) is a Native American nonprofit organization in Meridian Township. It aims to educate people about Native American history and offer resources to Natives.

The museum’s educational coordinator Victoria Voges has many roles at the Nokoimis Learning Center. She is the main presenter, curator of the gallery and runs the gift shop.

“We are holding up the Great Lakes Indigenous history and the art and culture both past and present day of the contemporary times,” said Voges.

The center is collaborating with Native artists and storytellers to host Community Art Build and Indigenous Storytelling at Fenner Nature Center on Saturday.

Nokomis Learning Center lists its mission to “preserve and present the history, arts and culture of the ‘people of the Three Fires’ – the Odawa, Potawatomi, and Ojibwe” on their website. Photo by Claire Postelli.

“We do a lot of outreach, we get involved, like we are this weekend, with projects that are trying to protect the environment or the water,” Voges said. “We’re not necessarily into any political events other than just environmental projection. That’s it because it’s part of what bringing the circle of life back together into a state of balance is all about.”

The event at Fenner Nature Center is just one example of how the Nokomis Learning Center gets involved with the community.

On Oct. 17, Voges had a group of 4 and 5-year-old children come to the learning center to explore Native culture. Events like this happen throughout the year, but Voges wishes they were more regular.

“I wish it was on a real regular basis and I could say like ‘oh, 10 a month, or 20 a month,’ but it’s really sporadic,” Voges said. “In the summer things slow down, in the fall they start to pick up.”

Rayna Caskey grew up in Okemos. She’s Anishinaabe from the Sault Tribe of Chippewa Indians.

“I grew up 20 minutes from the center… and it stood out to me because I know of other language and cultural centers, but in my experience they’re generally on tribal land and this one isn’t,” said Caskey. “Having a community space for people who don’t live with their tribe is really nice.”

Along with preserving art and history, the center wishes to preserve Native languages by teaching one of the dialects of the Ojibwe. Caskey said the Nokomis Learning Center is one of the only centers she’s seen that offers classes like this.

Although the Nokomis Learning Center offers resources to people, they also struggle for space and resources of their own.

“We have a small library,” said Voges. “I was just thinking today about how I’m going to bring them out and display them because our room is limited. Just to display more books or bring in more books I have to take down some of the other things in the learning center. We really need another room that’s put on this building.”

The Nokomis Learning Center offers volunteer opportunities as well.

“We definitely need help with grant writing, we can’t afford to, as a nonprofit, really pay professional grant writers,” Voges said. “Periodically, we do have help, but they come and go.”

Caskey believes that coming together in the Native community is vital, regardless of where people live.

“What’s nice about centers is while they may not be associated with a specific tribe, they still have people that are knowledgeable about cultural practices who are there to connect people and provide a kind of home-base,” said Caskey. “Having a place for cultural teachings is always good.”

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