Celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day at the historic Great Hall of The Cooper Union on Monday, Oct. 11, 7pm with Grammy Award–winning composer, 2021 Helen Merrill award-winning playwright, actor, choreographer, eagle dancer, and hoop dancer Ty Defoe (Giizhig). Ty, who is from the Oneida and Ojibwe Nations, interweaves artistic projects with social justice, indigeneity, trans rights, Indigi-Queering, and environmentalism.

As part of “We Will Always Be Here” program, he will be joined by several other artists, all members of Tribal Nations, for the evening which will feature music, dance, and film in an effort to celebrate unity for Native Peoples and amplify voices past, present, and future. These include Grammy-nominated cellist/vocalist/composer and world music artist Dawn Avery, vocalist, actress, percussionist, and choreographer Joan Henry, actor Jake Hart, Eagle Project theater company founder Opalanietet, and actor Tanis Parenteau, among others.

For registration details click here.


Chasing the Dream: Poverty and Opportunity in America is a multi-platform public media initiative that provides a deeper understanding of the impact of poverty on American society. Major funding for this initiative is provided by The JPB Foundation. Additional funding is provided by Ford Foundation.


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 other.

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 trapezoid.

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 today.

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 together.

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 artist.

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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