We’re keeping the Funimation Space For Everyone initiative alive with a three-part series spotlight on Indigenous cosplayers and innovators, creating a space for “Indiginerds” to talk about their unabashed love for all things geek.
We’re not holding space for sensationalized portrayals of Indigenous Americans steeped in stereotypes, but instead amplifying the beautifully human voices of Indigenous people in the realm of nerd culture.
Meet Agent Fang: Cosplayer extraordinaire, fancy shawler and Gunpla builder.
What is your tribal affiliation?
I’m from the Oglala Lakota nation
Tell me about yourself.
I’m literally that meme that’s like, “tell me about yourself,” and it’s just a loading symbol [laughs]. Outside of cosplay, I still enjoy creative outlets. I do a lot of traditional native craftwork as a way of storytelling and sharing my culture. I also dance fancy shawl and jingle styles at local wacipi/powwows…though when I’m not dancing, you can definitely find me sitting in a corner working on some beadwork.
I find that working on something we love is sometimes a great way to teach or even show the younger generations that it’s OK to be passionate about things you care about. That goes for both nerd life AND cultural life.
One of my ultimate life goals is to be that Indigenous auntie who inspires young people to maintain their creativity and cultural identity. At some point in life, we get to a point where our perception of the world changes. We stop seeing the magic in everyday things, or get so caught up in what other people think of our passions and forms of expression.
Don’t be afraid to express yourself. Create that OG character that you’ve been daydreaming about for months. Rock that bougee native bling. Wear your ribbon skirt and mocs to the office and walk into that meeting with your head held high!
What is your cosplay origin story?
I started cosplaying on and off back in 2004 during high school. Back then, it seemed like there were very few cosplayers of color, and there was even a stigma against the idea that we could be “nerds” or like anime.
My first cosplay was Aisha Clan-Clan from Outlaw Star. Her spunk was inspiring and a huge contrast to my usual reserved demeanor, so it was a way for me to step outside of myself and become someone else, even if it was just for a weekend.
How many years have you been cosplaying?
I started in 2004, but didn’t really start taking it seriously until 2014…so about seven years consistently.
Are your cosplays homemade or do you buy/commission them?
All of the above! I love making my own cosplays, and there’s definitely a sense of pride in being able to say “I made that,” but I find the same feeling in being able to wear a piece made by a skilled artist that loves what they do. Being able to share an artist’s work and tell others about their wonderful creations is a lot of fun.
For me, whether I make a cosplay myself or commission someone else to do it will often depend on what the cosplay is, if there’s an artist that I’m absolutely fan-girling over who creates a specific cosplay, and time.
Of the many cosplays you have done, which one is most meaningful to you and why?
Oof. I’d say Princess Kida from Atlantis. Disney’s Atlantis came out in 2001 at a time when we really didn’t see Indigenous characters displayed in media. If there were ever native figures, they were typically the stereotypes of the “stoic warrior” or “sexualized native princess,” and neither trope has been beneficial to our native community.
Society as a whole often focuses more on the stereotypes than the reality of us being real people in modern times. Atlantis definitely exhibits many of these issues and tropes, but still manages to display a meeting of cultures where there can be respect and appreciation without stealing or patronization.
Kidagakash and her fellow Atlanteans show a society that is fading with each generation. Like our own people, with each passing year the traditions that would be passed on become more and more hazy. Yet despite their advanced civilization in the story, they somehow manage to need some outsider to save the day—as is done so often in movies involving Indigenous peoples.
However, for one of the first times in mainstream media, that wasicu (outsider) savior did so without a sense of pity or patronization. He didn’t look upon the Atlanteans as if they were lesser due to their cultural differences—nor was one of his motives to steal knowledge for any manner of personal gain.
He showed a pure interest, fascination, and most importantly, respect. He never bogarted his way into a society he didn’t grow up in, but chipped in as an ally when asked. Simultaneously, Kida is shown as a fierce woman that is respected among both men and women. She cares about her people enough to put her life on the line, but also realizes she can’t do everything alone and asks for help when needed.
Overall she was a strong female character who has many parallels with our own community.
Has your Indigenous background ever inspired your cosplay? If so, how do you incorporate your identity with that of the characters you cosplay?
In some ways. I love the idea of combining Indigenous identity with characters. Or even making new OG Indigenous cosplays. But the majority of my cosplays are characters I feel a strong connection to for character traits on their own regardless of cultural identity.
I’m more of the Nico Robin or Mai type of gal as they share a lot of my personality traits. I thought about maybe revising an armored Sailor Scout with Lakota vibes… but it’s probably more likely that I’d combine my favorite anime into my traditional attire rather than the reverse.
One of my current cosplay ideas that I’m toying with would combine the MMIW (Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women) with a military soldier. But until I can do it in a respectful and well-thought-out manner that can clearly display my message to honor all of the cousins I’m lost through the years, the final stages of that product are on hold.
How can the cosplay community improve in regard to Indigenous cosplayers and makers?
As with all things in life, it’s important to stay educated on the world around you and be mindful of other’s experiences. A lot of it comes down to respect, and the fact that oftentimes we are not seen as living, breathing people.
The stereotypes and caricatures of Indigenous peoples are so rampant that often mainstream society is unable to differentiate between what’s real and what’s fantasy about our community, and that in turn contributes to the continuous dehumanization of Indigenous peoples outside of the cosplay community.
With that being said, as both a cosplayer AND an Indigenous artist, I strongly suggest for the cosplay community to go out and support their fellow Indiginerds! I’ve come across a lot of people in the cosplay community who will say things like, “OMG I love Native Americans, but I’m not allowed to wear their stuff,” or, “I wish I had something cool and original of my fave character.”
Talk to your local native artists! Outside of our regalia and family-specific creations, many of us would be happy to share our Indigenous-made wares, and in doing so you would be supporting an artist, small business, and a Native American without fear of appropriation.
Want to add some native flavor to your cosplay? Us native beaders can Indigenify almost anything. Have a BNHA snapback but wanna rep some native flare? We can bead that brim. Want a one-of-a-kind necklace? We can make a beaded medallion of your fave characters, face or logo. Super into Sailor Moon but want a native feel? We gotchu. There are so many indigenous artists out there who are also otakus that would love to share their passion for art and anime culture, but rarely anyone speaks up and asks.
Skip the fake headdresses and dream catchers, and talk to your local native artists and friends about making you something one of a kind that you can wear with pride.
What would you like to see in terms of Indigenous representation in anime?
We definitely need more representation behind the scenes, and I want to see more young people achieving their goals in the entertainment industry.
On-screen anime…for the most part, we generally accept that the majority of anime settings are based in Japan or a Neo-Eastern regional setting. When the settings are outside of the East, ethnic backgrounds are usually more ambiguous, with backgrounds mostly being referenced by hair color or surnames. Forcing a character concept into a setting just for representation is nearly as bad as not including that representation at all.
With that being said, Attack on Titan comes to mind for a current anime. Would the plot be any different if one of the character’s last names was Poor Bear (my own family name)? A fair amount of the characters have European family names—Kirchstein, Reiss, Schultz, etc. —which fit in with the overall European architecture and setting despite it being a made-up world. What if the Ackermann name and plotline were instead replaced with Mato Tamahece, the Lakota form of Poor Bear? What is the added value? Would this add anything to the plot? Or would we still be so focused on the characters and storyline regardless of their name or ethnic background?
We’d all definitely go, “Hey, that character’s one of us!” for a few minutes, but I feel like there would be more of an impact having representation in the industry itself with more writers, voice actors, producers, artists, frame editors, or art directors. Imagine if at conventions or popular streams, there were multiple Indigenous professionals. Kids and young adults would get to see people like them doing what they’re passionate about, and that representation matters.
What are your cosplans? Do you have any special projects coming up?
I’d love to do some larger cosplays soon. Right now I’m working on a Rogue One Death Trooper, but am still in the sanding process. I’m also drawing up a few armor ideas that I hope to have ready by Katsucon. My dream cosplay, though, would be to do a full Gundam one day with robotics.
If you were stranded on a deserted island, which anime character would you invite to keep you company?
Probably Nico Robin since we could have discussions on a wide variety of topics without getting bored, and our personalities are similar.
Where can we find you?
Instagram – @agent.fang003
Facebook – Agent.Fang
TikTok – @origin8v
Or just at powwows around the East Coast!