On a cool rainy, overcast day in September, Staff Sgt. Nakoa Akin Moonblood — formerly Staff Sgt. Roby Luckett — finds himself immersed in a vibrant bounty of artwork in the Circle of Art tent at the Indian Summer Festival at the Henry Maier Festival Park on the Milwaukee lakefront. As one of the featured Native American artists, he has more than a dozen paintings on exhibition. While this might make some people nervous, Moonblood is not. He has a quiet confidence that perfectly matches his stoic exterior. He sold every single one of his paintings, which most definitely gives him something to be confident about.
Moonblood, an aircraft mechanic with the 128th Air Refueling Wing (ARW), is part Choctaw, Cherokee, and Blackfoot Native American, as well as African American. However, he uses his Native American cultural background as inspiration for most of his artwork.
"I have been coming to Indian Summer since I was a little kid," Moonblood said. "But it was only in the past few years that I really started to make a strong connection to that part of my past."
He credits painting as the vessel for him to explore his heritage, and though he is relatively new to it, his craft is very refined — so much so that he was personally invited by the head of the Circle of Art Committee, Carol Cameron, to exhibit his work at Indian Summer, one of the many cultural festivals in Milwaukee.
Moonblood recalls a chance encounter right after he began experimenting with painting that nurtured his interest in the medium and would lead to the displaying his work at the most prominent event in the city that celebrates Native American culture.
"When I was working the 128th ARW recruiting booth at Indian Summer, I got a chance to meet world-renowned Cherokee painter Pat McAllister," Moonblood said. "Since our encounter, I began to develop my craft as an artist and balance my military career as well."
Following that meeting, Moonblood continued to hone his skills and eventually ran into McAllister and her husband, Joe McAllister, a few years later.
Joe happened to be a Navy veteran and naturally hit it off with Moonblood. They spent more than an hour sharing their military experiences. Afterward Moonblood showed Joe some of his artwork and received very positive feedback from him.
It was Joe who ultimately encouraged Moonblood to send samples of his work to the Circle of Art Committee.
"Joe told me my paintings were unique from the rest of the art they were displaying," Moonblood said. "He told me my work would do well amongst the Native American community and art enthusiasts in general."
Moonblood eventually found his niche in painting Native American headdresses. He explained the feathers in the headdress represent the milestones of one's life in most Native American cultures. He sees the headdress as a reflection of not only his heritage, but his military service as well.
"Each feather shows my movement through the ranks, my community service, my work with youth and veterans, my deployments, my accomplishments and my children," he said.
Moonblood recognizes the appreciation for military that the Native American culture has. It has deepened his connection with that part of his heritage.
"I feel like this is a huge honor being able to represent my culture and also represent the Air Force in this year's Indian Summer Festival," Moonblood said.
It is that pride in his service and dedication to his fellow service members that led to his most recent project.
Since meeting Tim Mayer, an artist and administrator "Artist for the Humanities," Moonblood has plans to use his creative skills to reach out to struggling veterans. The organization is a non-profit program aimed at assisting United States military veterans deal with trauma and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Mayer incorporates art into therapy for veterans, which helps them communicate and release bad feelings through art. Moonblood plans to visit the Veterans Administration in Milwaukee and Appleton to facilitate painting sessions with veterans who suffer from PTSD and other disabilities.
Moonblood's exploration of his heritage has manifested into much more than just art and outreach. It is almost a spiritual transformation.
Moonblood changed his name from Roby Luckett Nov. 29. Nakoa is a Choctaw name meaning loyal warrior. Akin is a Nigerian name meaning brave. Moonblood is a last name that he felt a strong connection to.
Moonblood sees changing his name as shedding the negative connectivity of it being a slave name. It is a name passed down by his father who has also legally changed his name.
However, Moonblood remains proud of his old name. His children still carry it and will make the decision of whether or not to change theirs when they are older.
"At the end of the day I am glad for what I have accomplished with that name, and I feel I am leaving behind a respectable legacy with that name — turning a negative to a positive," Moonblood said.
For Moonblood, this change is a rebirth and a start to a new legacy that he hopes his children will follow.
"It was time for me to get back to my roots and heritage,” he said. “As a man with children, I want to start a new legacy."