When Tailinh Agoyo was growing up in Brooklyn, she traveled with her father, Tchin, to Santa Fe, N.M., for indigenous arts events every year. Out there, the Agoyo family would run into other indigenous people from the East Coast purchasing baskets, beadwork, jewelry, carvings, and pottery from native artists. Together, they attended performances by dance troupes and musicians.
Those trips led Agoyo to notice that many major cities on the East Coast lacked similarly well-established events. Now, as codirector of Seeds, an indigenous arts organization that began in Santa Fe, Agoyo sees an opportunity to show that indigenous people and culture are thriving in Philadelphia. She herself moved here from Santa Fe in 2015.
On Saturday the organization, founded two years ago by Agoyo and her Santa Fe counterpart, Paula Mirabal, is hosting its first daylong event here, filled with arts, dance, contemporary and traditional music, food, storytelling, and more. “We Are the Seeds” is being held at Taller Puertorriqueño, Philadelphia’s center for Latino arts and culture, and it’s free. (Attendees will have the chance to make donations on-site.)
“There’s a belief that indigenous people live out West, when there are indigenous people everywhere,” Agoyo said. “But we also exist here, and an event like this is necessary and important because it tells the story of who we are, as indigenous people, as well as everyone’s history.”
The Philly event is a “scaled-down version” of Seeds’ Santa Fe event, which will take place in August. Another indigenous festival — the Blue Corn Lifestyle: Green and Organic Fest at Penn’s Landing — has featured Mexican indigenous traditions for the past few summers.
Agoyo said that one thing she noticed in Philly after she moved here was how difficult it was for her to find landmarks and art around the city for indigenous people.
One of her first indigenous art discoveries was a sculpture made from perforated metal on a traffic island on Delaware Avenue near the Penn Treaty Park. It’s by Bob Haozous, a Chiricahua Apache artist.
“The first time I saw it, I stopped my car and got out,” Agoyo said. “There was a little plaque there that says, ‘This is Indian land.’ I thought, ‘That’s powerful, but for whom? Who’s seeing it and what more do we need here?’ ”
Over the last year, Agoyo and her team worked slowly but surely to establish a presence in the city. They’ve held a number of workshops, many for kids, that incorporate arts and crafts with cultural education. Last year, Seeds Philadelphia participated in the Fringe Festival.
Then in January, Agoyo decided that it was time to celebrate native arts and culture in a more visible way. She knew that organizing a festival in three months was going to be no easy feat, so she called on her friends and family members for help. Many of them, including Agoyo’s father, Tchin, will be at the event.
One of Agoyo’s friends, Avery Amaya, who identifies as Chicano, Seminole, and Comanche, is giving a presentation on the indigenous roots of lacrosse. It is considered the oldest American sport still played today.
“Lacrosse is one of those fairly common sports with a much deeper side to it,” Amaya said. “In this particular setting, I really want to expose people to the history and the origin of the sport. It’s got this really rich, interesting story.”
Amaya said that as someone with a casual interest in indigenous art, it’s easy to see that it’s really underrepresented in the region.
“It’s one of those things that indigenous artists may be creating and contributing,” he said. “But people looking at the art may not necessarily make the connection between the art and the artist’s heritage. Hopefully that changes.”
Agoyo said that while there are educational aspects to the event, it’s definitely more of a celebration.
“Our goal is to show the diversity of indigenous culture and traditions and the way that we live in contemporary America,” Agoyo said. “We want everyone to come in and share with us with the beauty and joy of who we are.”
We Are the Seeds