In Canada, June marks National Indigenous Peoples Month, where we honor First Nations, Inuit, and Métis across Canada. Here, we want to celebrate the Indigenous creators who are using TikTok to reclaim digital space.
How do you reclaim digital space when mainstream and digital media have excluded representative BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) stories for so long? For Indigenous creators, one social media platform is surprisingly leading the way: TikTok.
Indigenous creatives are using the popular social networking app (TikTok just surpassed 2 billion downloads) to “find powerful ways of seeing and being seen.” Take a scroll through the #Indigenous hashtag on TikTok (at the time of writing, there are 339.2 million TikToks posted using that tag) and you’ll be met with a space that is funny, creative, ingenious, charming, heartwarming, moving, and much more.
Creators are showing first hand the perspective and stories of Indigenous peoples. In doing so, they’re contributing to a new digital language: one that is wholly Indigenous.
What are Indigenous creators sharing on TikTok?
They’re breaking down stereotypes, addressing social and political issues, and using the platform as a tool for solidarity, visibility, and awareness. And while non-BIPOC communities benefit from viewing these TikToks as a tool for education, for the most part, these creators are using the platform as a means to connect with, uplift, and affirm each other.
Here, we’ll touch on why Indigenous creators are using TikTok, and highlight four Indigenous creators who are using TikTok to express their culture. Listen to these creatives’ tips to find out how you can use TikTok to share your own story.
TikTok Helps Transform Cultural Knowledge
Jessie Loyer, a Cree-Métis and a member of Michel First Nation, writes in this essay on how Indigenous TikTok Is transforming cultural knowledge:
“It feels revolutionary to see Indigenous representation in digital spaces. But these digital creators aren’t just content with riffing on a meme. They are taking it further than simple recitation by turning inward to express what is sometimes truly weird insider humor. NDN TikTokers are extremely aware of their audiences and how they see and are seen: they are refusing appropriation and non-Indigenous audiences through powerful forms of mutual recognition.”
She goes on to say, “Of course, there are TikToks where the creators know their audience to be non-Indigenous people. They perform Indigenous cultures for voyeurs, they educate about Indigenous languages and they shrug as they list the races they’ve been mistaken for. Indigenous TikToks created for outsiders defiantly confront the way mainstream spaces see Indigenous people: disappearing or already disappeared.”
Expressing Personal Culture on TikTok
BIPOC communities are leading the anti-racist fight. Because of this heavy and burdensome work, Jessie points out that Indigenous peoples have been narrowly framed as only resistors, defenders, and dismantlers of racism. With TikTok, Indigenous creators are able to express themselves—their humor, their art, their dance, their regalia, their history, their wellness, their culture, and so on—in a dynamic, creative, and multi-faceted way. In short: in all their realness.
Why is TikTok a Good Platform for Cultural Creativity?
TikTok is popular for many reasons, but there are a few reasons why it seems to be the app of choice for Indigenous creators. For one, it’s funny. Humor is communal. Through humor, Indigenous creators speak to one another. Not only are funny videos relatable, but they often get more views and shares on the app—two factors important to TikTok’s algorithm.
TikTok’s lo-fi production quality and in-app editing tools mean the barrier to entry for creators is minimized, allowing younger generations of creators to take charge. TikTok relies on transitions, video effects, sound, and music as opposed to face filters, stickers, and other altering effects on other social platforms. With TikTok, it’s about showing, not masking, who you are.
Creating Community on TikTok
And then there’s amplification. TikTok encourages creators to share in another’s work. Challenges are quickly adopted by creators who put their own Indigenous twist on them, such as the glow-up trend. For this challenge, Indigenous creators take this concept and “glow up” by showing off their traditional regalia. TikTok is ultimately a shared experience. Its creators are empowered to show off their ingenuity, and creativity and in turn, amplified and celebrated by others..
5 Indigenous Creators to Follow on TikTok
Larissa, a 17-year-old Indigenous creator who is Carrier and Nehiyaw from the Nazko First Nation in British Columbia, has one of the most-viewed TikToks on the app. Her video, titled “How I Get Ready for Powwow,” is a fun glimpse of her transformation from everyday clothes to traditional powwow regalia (aka the glow-up trend). In other TikToks, Larissa shares how to create a traditional Ribbon Skirt and calls attention to Canada’s Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (you can read more about that here.) At 17 years old, Larissa clearly knows the power of representation: Indigenous youth are seeing her TikTok videos and she wants to inspire them.
James Jones is a Nehiyaw (Cree) traditional hoop dance artist. According to his bio, he has performed and traveled all over the world, and is ranked among the top five hoop dancers in the world. (If you’ve been lucky enough to see A Tribe Called Red perform live, you are likely familiar with James’ incredible dancing.)
While James is known internationally for his dance, on TikTok, it’s his humor that has propelled him into fame. James hilariously subverts stereotypes of Indigenous culture. In one video, James jokingly refers to missing powwows—celebrations of dance, story, song and culture—when hearing an unexpected powwow beat. In another, he takes on police questioning through an Indigenous lens.
@The_Land is a 17-year-old Anishinaabe creator whose TikTok videos on braids help to educate others around their importance to Indigenous culture. In the most-watched TikTok video posted to #Indigenous, @The_Land tells why braids are important to his culture, and why, as a teen, he was bullied for his long hair. @The_Land will often incorporate generational learning—featuring his parents—in his videos, showing them braiding hair together as a family.
Candice is an Inuk creator who shares TikToks of her daily life in Canada’s far north, from videos that introduce us to a snow knife (used to carve blocks of ice and igloos) to teaching the traditional Inuk name for snowdrift, and bringing viewers along for the geese hunt. Like other Indigenous creators, she’ll collaborate with others on the platform, lending her voice to powerful displays of Indigenous solidarity—like this montage on the awareness for the Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women.
Indigenous TikTok Creators Around the World
While Indigenous creators living in Canada have been quick to embrace the platform, we’re also seeing this trend elsewhere. In Australia, creators are using TikTok to explain systemic racism and share their own experiences of Aboriginality. In New Zealand, a youth engagement program uses TIkTok to help South Auckland Indigenous teens foster connection, identity and belonging through the app. In the United States, a Navajo teenager used TikTok to report on the Nation’s Covid-19 cases—at the time, the largest outbreak in the United States—when mainstream media failed to do so.
For creatives and small businesses, TikTok is the newest and latest platform.And as we’re learning, it has a lot more potential than just funny memes and dance battles. Now is the time to think creatively – how are you going to maximize the platform to share your own story?
Cover image by Gleb Tarro.
Want to learn more about social media? Check out these articles: