Have you ever had to stuck it up and go out with a family or family because they did not want to go to an event alone? Well, that happened to me. As an older sister it’s my job to make sure my younger siblings are safe. During the 2023 Navajo Nation fair there was a musical performance by Native artist group called ALLSNZ at the local cinema in Window Rock Saturday night. To be honest I didn’t think I was going to have a good time but, I was there so I might as well soak it in.
As the show began one of the artists from the group was also the MC for the night, his stage name was Tufawon. There was this energy about him, and he had a way to engage with the whole crowd. By the time it was his turn to perform he had the whole theater singing along to his songs. To my surprise I was screaming like crazy, dancing in my seat. He shined on that stage and that whole time he was in his natural element which made the experience a memorable one.
This forced “mandatory fun” time that turned into a fun time was timely. In my fall 2023 NAS111: Introduction to Native American Studies, we had the opportunity to explore several areas of Native American art and we discussed in depth the practices of visual sovereignty. Visual sovereignty is important to all Native American artists. We are not the stereotypical “Indians” from the history books and old western movies and Native Artists, and their art are helping make our statement heard, “we’re still here!” Watching Tufawon, he inspired me to focus on how Native American art can be seen, worn, and heard through social media outlet, eliminating middlemen. So, I set out to interview him for one of our assignments. In the process, I learned about Native American HipHop, its connection to NO DAPL, and its role in contemporary Indigenous communities.
Tufawon is known as Rapheal Gonzales. He is Minconjou Lakota on his maternal side and Tahino Puerto Rican on his paternal side. He was raised in the south side of Minneapolis. Rapheal understands himself as an Indigenous person by his Lakota heritage. He stated his DNA is connected to the land and it makes a statement to others out there that Lakota people are still here.
Tufawon believes that Native American Art is defined by any Native American making art. He liked to draw and paint as an adolescent but he’s passion was always to be a performer like the ones he saw on MTV. His friends encouraged him to pursued music. He remembers all the late night shows he and a few other artists performed at clubs that were for 21year old and older. He laughed when he told me the owners would write a huge X cross the top of their hands because they were underage.
From memories of club performances to standing in opposition to the Dakota Access Pipeline, we discussed the protests on the Standing Rock Sioux reservation and how he became a member of ALLSNZ. He remembers all the energy from so many different artists that came from all over and shared their music with one another at the camps. There he met AntoniX who had an idea about a larger hip-hop group. From there the idea grow into a reality. To this day there is roughly 14 members that are part of ALLSNZ group, including himself.
Tufawon said his music and poetry has impacted his identity in so many positive ways. With the lyrics from his songs, he’s able to express his experiences as a Lakota and Puerto Rican which are both very important to him. It was through youth centers like Weight House Native Community where he got on the job training to become a youth counselor. Now, he gets to teach music to the native youth that are interested in music as well. He wants to teach the youth that, to be rich doesn’t mean to have money or materialistic things. Being rich is how much you give to others, that’s where real wealth comes from.
I ended our conversation by asking Tufawon how he believed that art could help to build stronger Indigenous communities. He responded that leading by example, actively going out to different reservation communities can inspire individuals that maybe at a crossroad in life. That example might help them off the wrong path, to show them we, as Indigenous people, are stronger and louder together. By helping one another in this world this way, we continue to leave something good for the future generations ahead.
Just like watching Tufuwon perform on the stage and pull in the audience. He did the same during this interview. What was supposed to be a simple 30-minute conversation lasted for over an hour. Hearing about how passionate he is about his music and wanting to help other Native Americans find their passion to me is his practice of visual sovereignty. Tofuwon makes music for the people and his music is what gets some people through whatever life is throwing at them. I do believe his art is making a difference. “Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and life to everything.” – Plato
For more information about Tufawon or to hear some of his music, visit: https://www.tufawon.com/
For more readings and sources on Native American music, visit the Diné College library and search for "Native American Music"
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