'Iokepa & David Ruben
'Iokepa & David Ruben

It looked something like this. 'Iokepa and I had just had an enormously successful Grandmothers Whisper book reading and discussion at the Folk School in Grand Marais, Minnesota the night before.  We had a free day before the next book event on the Ojibwa Reservation in Grand Portage.  We decided to do that rare thing for us:  be tourists for a single day.

We wandered the shops of Grand Marais and happened into an exceptionally imaginative and serious 30-year-old established art gallery - the Sivertson Gallery.  It was home to some of the most extraordinary Native American art we'd seen anywhere - including Santa Fe.

We happened into that gallery at the moment when they were installing their annual Inuit (native Alaskan) art show.  We stepped through the door at the exact moment that the celebrated (and featured) Inuit sculptor, David Ruben, and his wife Katherine were unloading K-Mart plastic bins from their car.  It happened that these bins held the contents of the next day's art show - his unique and acclaimed soapstone sculpture.

'Iokepa and I stood to the side and watched the unloading and the unveiling of these mesmerizing. emotive pieces of art.  We quietly witnessed the careful unwrapping of the first few breathtaking  pieces, and then we left.  We never spoke a word to the artist nor his wife.  They were intent on the job at hand.

Two days later, we were packing our suitcases and anticipating the next day's trip south and east from this northern-most town in Minnesota nestled on the edge of  Lake Superior.  Our hosts' phone rang and the gallery owner enthused:  "David Ruben has spoken of nothing other than the Hawaiian man he saw in the gallery the other day.  He keeps asking: 'Who is that man?'  Clearly he wants to meet 'Iokepa. Can we do dinner tonight?"

We could not.  But the Grandmothers spoke loud and clear.  So early the next morning, we made a stop on our journey at the Folk School where David was teaching a workshop.  And then David, 'Iokepa and I sat alone around a table; the men shared lives and cultures.  They made it look easy.

Our host was perplexed, before and after.  He kept repeating: "But 'Iokepa never said a word to David in that gallery? How could David know him...?"

His consternation was the very thing that 'Iokepa often addressed:  "We don't need titles or labels...or even words to tell the world who we are.  We recognize the truth of a person in their eyes, in the way they move."  And so David recognized 'Iokepa - and, of course, 'Iokepa recognized his brother David.

When they came together, David said, he knew (always and immediately) when there was kinship.  He recognized it the moment he set eyes on 'Iokepa.  It was screaming through their aboriginal silences.

They spoke - and they listened - together in their shared half an hour.   David's spoke of his forced removal from his biological family and placement in a boarding school where all that was Indian would be "educated" out of him - all that was European would be inflicted.  'Iokepa answered about his father's exile from the Hawaiian Islands.  Had his father's son been born on the Hawaiian Islands in 1950,  it would have been against the law to carry an indigenous name - it would have had to have been a Christian one.

They spoke together of the meaning of their names:  David's  Inuit name means "The wind"--and when you view his art ( www.davidruben.com ) you will recognize the appropriateness of the name.  This man flies with the gods.  He asked 'Iokepa how to say "Wind" in Hawaiian.  'Iokepa told him:  "Ka Makani," and David wrote it down.

The name, 'Iokepa Hanalei 'Imaikalani, means:  "The best from heaven - the Creator - has chosen him to work to bring the people together."  The name is his destiny.

David had questions about 'Iokepa's destiny, his journey, and the Native Hawaiian prophecy.

The gallery owner - Jan Sivertson, who brought the two men together - rejoined the conversation.  She reminded David that there was a studio full of students awaiting their teacher's return.

Then she laughed.  "David's Indian name means 'Wind'; 'Iokepa's  name  means, 'Taking care of business."  No one had quite put it that way before - and yet, it was exactly so.