Indigi-queer Grammy award-winning interdisciplinary artist Ty Defoe from the Oneida and Ojibwe nations whose work interweaves artistic projects with social justice, gender, and environmentalism while challenging stereotypes about indigenous people and their communities joins us for a sneak peek at tonight’s “We Will Always Be Here” program.

AIRED: October 11, 2021 | 0:11:24

The circle is a web like a spider weaving silk.

Sacred seconds of memories that unfold moments of

histories like language disappearing on tongues

are ritual sites.

Burning smoke collected the spinning around and

around and around to reclaim sacred geometry

and peace inside this tapestry.

The circle is belief occurring in a series of

moments echoing across Turtle Island in a

kaleidoscope of patterns, cycles of natural rotation

to the beat of the drum, reviving the breath of

life to those who stopped breathing too soon.

The circle is peace.

There is peace in this circle.

We are the circle.


That was a short clip from Circle by Ty Dafoe, Tyson

award winning playwright, actor, composer,

choreographer, dancer and storyteller ties work

interweaves ideas of social justice, gender and

environmentalism, and challenges stereotypes

about indigenous people and their communities.

Tai welcome to Metro Focus.

Thanks for having me.

It's great to be here.

So first, I just want to say I gave this sort of

long title description describing your work, et

cetera, but I'd like to hear from you, who are you

as an artist and also an individual?

But how do you describe your work?

I love these big questions, who are you?

Isn't that isn't right?

So I'll say bourgeois, I mean, agog entire vision

of Cosmos swallowing and Jabbar magazine endoderm

bob drowning in on the Milky Way to know.

So I said hello, greetings to any Anishinaabe

speakers out there.

My name is tied to Phil and my pronouns.

Are he him, his or just tie?

I'm from the Unida and the Ojibway tribal nations who

are a citizen of the United nation and I

currently residing in Lanouf, hulking

territories over there in hipster Brooklyn and just

giving thanks to all of the directions that

brought me to make the art that I do.

And I primarily identify as an interdisciplinary

artist shapeshifter, working at many

intersections of theater, puppetry, song dance and

storytelling, and most always, always commonly

amplifying the voices of native indigenous people

and in particular, glitter rising various forms of

this ecojustice and liberation for all people.

OK, so then tell me a little bit more about that

shapeshifting because we've talked about this in

depth on metro folk is that for people of color,

for varying different reasons, that becomes

almost second nature to the part where we're

probably not even always conscious of doing it.

But tell me a little bit about your experience of

what does Shape-Shifting mean for you?

Yanny Shape-Shifting, to me, means to not

necessarily going from point A to B in a linear

type fashion, but in fact utilizing the shape, the

great hoop, that great circle and finding various

components, how things intersect with each other.

So it's this idea about transcending forms, right?

Transcending that goes on with thinking binary

thinking it goes around.

Binary feeling so shapeshifting for me is

about the dialog and conversations that happen

from moment to moment to moment.

And you can also translate that to from decade to

decade to decade from past, present and future.

And I feel like Shape-Shifting is is

essential because it's the way how one moves moves in

the world.

Well, and I like that you actually put it that way

because first off, we did see a clip of Circle and

also you in among the many things that you do.

You're also you practice traditional dance.

And I know that the circle dances are a very

important part of culture for you.

So I'm wondering, how is it that you see, I guess

bringing something that's a very traditional dance

and including that in your current performance are

for people who might not be aware of or might most

likely don't know the significance of what

you're doing.

Yeah, absolutely, and this this dance is very

important to me, you know, it was given to me from a

cousin of mine, and it's a dance that has always been

there for me.

This idea about the circle.

And when I realized at the time is that this was a

model about which to aspire to live life.

And so I met various dance teachers, including Kevin

Larkin, Dallas Chief Eagle and my own family.

Sort of talking about this great, super great circle

of life that's rooted very traditionally like roots

inside of the Earth, right?

And then there comes a point it a human to evolve

myself, you know, being an artist and living in a

sort of contemporary type world, needing to branch

out into other art forms was able to braid, if you

will, these branches together to come up with

what the video that you saw called circle that

incorporated various messages through, you

know, courriel poetry through listening to the

heartbeats of drums to various compositions of

music, all talking about the inclusivity of the

Circle and the circle is very important because it

talks about the various forms of inclusivity that

not only people, how everyone's related, but

also how we're related to the environment, the world

around us that goes for the two legged, the

winged, the routed from Earth to fin to sky and

back again, all in that great hoop, that great

circle of life.

So for me, growing up, this has been a very

foundational dance, and it's truly highlighted by

the emblematic power, the message in the symbols.

When the dance begins to happen, there's a story

that goes along with this dance that talks about

bringing joy and peace to the people.

What is it like to bring peace to brothers,

sisters, relatives who might not look like us?

Talk like us?

But how can we continue to work in solidarity in that

great hoop?

And we're sort of seeing that right now.

It's very relevant to today.

It's relevant of the past.

And quite frankly, to me, it's relevant for creating

sustainable future relationships with each


You kind of already answered my next question

with the one that you just gave.

But I do want to ask using the circle as a sort of

larger metaphor.

How do you see the visibility of indigenous

people as part of the larger American Circle?

Yeah, I think, you know that it's some there's

many layers to that question.

I think this idea about being American is throwing

out right?

Who you are to become something else.

And I feel like this circle, the symbol of the

circle is actually being who you are because you

are in the circle.

You everyone is in that circle.

And we need everyone in that circle to get a


It's not a triangle or a dodecahedron, right?

Because those have corners.

The circle is actually a very powerful image.

And what that does is it's not even also creating a

hierarchy, but it's saying, Hey, this person

that I'm next to on my right and my left side and

or above or below right things that creepy

crawlies on the Earth and the great flying birds of

the sky.

We literally are connected by mind, body and spirit.

And this is very important symbol to, I think, to a

lot of indigenous people because it is calling upon

ancient wisdom that has existed, that we are using

today to get four times of trials and tribulations.

It's calling upon ancient wisdom to create new

opportunities and new practice.

You know, I have this saying that's in my tribe,

which is the admission of a people that were

normally do talks often about.

And the saying is if you are not dreaming seven

generations ahead, you are not dreaming big enough.


So if you are not dreaming seven generations ahead,

you are not dreaming big enough.

And I utilize this because of that shape of the

circle of everlasting everlasting and will go on

into the future beyond what we might even know


And so it's a very powerful symbol to remind

to invoke blood memory, to invoke the remembering, to

invoke democratizing a type of process about

being together.

These types of symbols are becoming very, very

important because it is saying that, yes, we were

here as native indigenous people.

We are here and we will always be here.

That is I'm stammering that is almost mind

blowing to.

Even state that thinking seven generations ahead is

not even thinking big enough.

But we are coming up in the end of our time


I can't believe, but I do have one last question and

that was the earlier I was speaking with Edgar

Villanueva about colonization and

decolonization when it comes especially in the

realm of finance.

And I'm wondering for you as a contemporary artist,

very quickly.

With about forty five seconds left, what does

decolonization mean for you?


I like to think about decolonization as

indigenization, right?

Starting at the root of that tree.

I think decolonization for me is undoing systems that

are in place, which is also needed.

So these two things need to exist at the time.

We need folks doing the decolonizing work of

undoing the entanglement of problematic systems and

at the same time honoring black brown folks that

have are calling upon ancient wisdom.

How can these two things work in tandem?

And we see that replicated in our wampum belt here on

the Northeast Coast with the two row wampum.

A lot of these great teachings that the United

States Constitution actually is modeled after.

So I think that's decolonization, and I like

to bring in also indigenization to work in

tandem with each other.

All right.

Well, listen, Ty Deffo, a multifaceted performing


Thank you so much for joining us on the show and

more importantly, sharing your work.

So important.

Thank you.

Thank you so much.

Have a good day.


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