Dreaming Seven Generations Ahead
July 28, 2021

Dreaming Seven Generations Ahead

Ty Defoe (Giizhig) is an interdisciplinary artist, writer, storyteller, and Grammy Award winner from the Oneida and Ojibwe Nations. Ty has an integral approach to artistic projects by pulling in social justice messages rooted through words, music, literature, theatre, and now film with digital media components. Some of his favorite places to tour (virtually or physically) are in Native communities across Turtle Island and inspiring future generations to come with Indigenous futurism.

More than a decade ago, Ty Defoe (Giizhig) won a Grammy for his collaboration on the album Come to Me Great Mystery - Native American Healing Songs (2008). As a writer and interdisciplinary artist — who also hoop dances, acts, and directs — what can top a Grammy? Dreaming seven generations ahead.

“If you aren’t dreaming seven generations ahead,” explains Defoe, who quotes an Anishinaabe value, “You’re not dreaming big enough.”

“If you aren’t dreaming seven generations ahead,” explains Defoe, who quotes an Anishinaabe value, “You’re not dreaming big enough.”

The future Defoe dreams of is fiercely Indigenous and queer. “As an Indigi-queer person who comes from a myriad of artmaking practices, I am forecasting rainbows,” advocates Defoe.

Recently, Defoe was commissioned by the Oregon Shakespeare Festival to produce a digital story for the Visual Sovereignty Project, which aims to decolonize O!, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s digital platform. Defoe’s project, titled Strong Like Flower, is about tribal and personal sovereignty. “It’s an intimate piece of symbolic literacy from my Ashinaabe worldview,” Defoe explained in a Q&A session with the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

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A central force of Defoe’s work is decolonizing western depictions of gender. “Art  has the power to amplify and uplift Two-Spirit and Indigi-queer individuals, processes, and practices.” For instance, Defoe is making a Two-Spirit Indigi-queer pop-up powwow at the Crystal Bridges Museum of Art at The Momentary in Bentonville, Arkansas, for Fuse Box Festival’s Live in America scheduled to debut in October 2021. The powwow is co-produced by his collaborators Amanda Luke and Jamelyn Ebelacker at All My Relations Collective, a social justice arts collective.

Future Forward with First Peoples Fund

As a 2021 Cultural Capital Fellow, Defoe is publishing a digital graphic novel (again, with his collaborators Lux Haac and Katherine Freer from All My Relations Collective) that will offer cultural knowledge —  or narrative artful medicine, as Defoe describes —  for Two-Spirit and Indigi-queer people, especially youth. “My worldview is Anishinaabe,” elaborates Defoe.”This [project] is about centralizing peace and at the same time exploring artful disruptions.”

Offering wisdom that withstands time is important for Defoe, just like his Ashinaabe and Oneida ancestors did for him. “I lead with messages and stories about what’s happening in current times,” says Defoe, which shapes a better future for Native people. “Futurism is something I’ve been dreaming about. And some settlers are like, ‘What’s that?’”

“[Indigenous futurism] is about glitterizing traditional practices while creating reparations to give back to our communities.”

And what nurtures Indigenous futurism, explains Defoe, is First Peoples Fund. “Being a Cultural Capital Fellow, I’m able to contact First Peoples Fund staff, who are there to engage in conversation about the artmaking process.”

While the artmaking process isn’t always easy, admits Defoe, collaborating with non-Native and colonized arts programs is even more challenging. “But I feel I don’t have to do cultural translation [with First Peoples Fund]. I can fully be myself. This is why it’s important to uplift Indigenous queer people, and why it’s important to talk about futurism for our people.”

“At First Peoples Fund, I get to dream,” says Defoe, perhaps seven generations ahead.

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