Agoyo Fights Native American Stereotypes

By Alexandra Bender
Staff Writer

ESU’s Office of Multicultural Affairs hosted a Native American Heritage Month Talk in Lower Dansbury on Nov. 11 at 7 p.m.

The guest speaker for the evening was Tailinh Agoyo, a remarkable woman of Narragansett, Blackfeet, and Chinese descent.

This new initiative of monthly assemblies was started by Cornelia Sewell-Allen, the Director of Multicultural Affairs, to illustrate multicultural women in the area.

Agoyo is, among other things, an actor, a photographer and a Native American rights activist.

Over 25 years ago, a young Agoyo travelled to Los Angeles in hopes of being picked up by an agent.

Because of the recent success of the movie “Dances With Wolves,” she was given the opportunity she wanted with ease.

During that time, she was given roles such as those of warriors’ wives and other historical Native American women.

Her best-known role, perhaps, was in TNT’s “Geronimo.” She played the wife of Geronimo, a famous Native American leader.

She couldn’t help but notice and be bothered by the fact that popular culture never recognizes contemporary Native American society.

She believes the historical stories are relevant and important, but their current way of life needs to be recognized too, maybe even more so.

Agoyo recounted being disturbed by the “fringes and buckskin” roles she and her fellows were consistently given.

After a while, she stopped acting as much as she had been and instead moved from city to city working many different, random jobs.

The idea of changing the world’s view on Native Americans had never left her mind, and it wasn’t long before she drifted into a high position at the Santa Fe Indian Market in New Mexico.

Santa Fe Indian Market is touted to be the biggest Native art company, bringing in a huge percentage of Santa Fe’s tourism.

She soon found the work environment toxic, however, and decided instead to start her own, more welcoming, and altogether better market in Santa Fe, which she named the Indigenous Fine Art Market (IFAM).

IFAM is a non-profit show in Santa Fe that displays the artistic works of Native Americans, or “Native people,” as she said repeatedly in her presentation.

Her goal was to prove that they are “more than the stereotype, in order to change the perspective of how people are viewed,” and also to “display the now.”

The show exhibits contemporary art, traditional art, dance, fashion shows and more. Generally, the show contains “a wild variety of Native people and culture.”

“I wanted to show the artists as how I know them,” Agoyo admitted.

This sentiment led to her debut as a photographer, and since then, she has been capturing countless photos of all the people she works with and encounters through her missions.

In addition to her work with IFAM, Agoyo has reached out and led other workshops and projects.
In her Empowerment Workshops, for example, she asks her participants, who consist of Native Americans, “What makes you feel good as a Native person?”

She led one such workshop with the Ute Tribe in Fort Duchesne, Utah.

As the Women’s Health Week Workshop facilitator and photographer, she imparted her knowledge on the importance of joy, self-care, and living a good life.

She contributed greatly to the Changing Woman Initiative documentary project as the photographer and filmmaker.

For this project, she visited the Six Nations Reserve in Ontario and observed the Toronto Birth Centre.

The center practices traditional medicines and gives women more choice in the birthing process than they would receive at a hospital.

She explained that for Native Americans, it is very important to have traditional births because it’s a big part of their culture.

“Each birth is a healing process for the family, the tribe and the world.”

Agoyo’s most recent and ongoing project is called the Warrior Project.

It deals with indigenous children and the way in which they see the world.

The project was born when Agoyo realized one day, while talking to one of her four sons, that children know and understand things about the Earth.

She photographs native children who show interest in the environment in the hopes of spreading their message.

“The kids are powerful, smart and savvy,” Agoyo explained. She continued, adding that the photos are “an amazing way to tell their stories, but it also goes the other way,” meaning it helps the kids realize who they are.

She counters the stereotypical view of Native people with intimate photos of real life with the hopes to change people’s perception.

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