How Indigenous Creators Are Using TikTok to Share Their Cultures

Indigenous creators are sharing their cultures with the world on #NativeTikTok through dancing, jokes, history, and more.

TikTok, an app first known for its choreographed dance videos, has become a go-to resource for learning about social justice and global issues. The platform, like Twitter and other social media channels, offers hours of endless entertainment, but it has also developed into a powerful and educational tool for activism and connecting people to other cultures. Indigenous content creators, for example, have turned to the app to share their lives, history, and customs.

Besides reconnecting old friends, TikTok fosters new bonds between people who may have never interacted otherwise. Hashtags like #NativeTikTok, for instance, have over 6.5 billion views, with Indigenous people from all over the world contributing their own videos. From traditional dances to humorous snippets, these Native creators are using the app to showcase the array of customs that exist within their communities, while also shattering stereotypes, amplifying each other's voices, and spreading awareness about political and social issues that Indigenous communities face today.

Breaking Stereotypes and Educating Others

TikTok has increasingly become a meaningful forum for Indigenous content creators to show pride in their culture and give a voice to their people who have been marginalized for generations. Some #NativeTikTok videos even show traditions and rituals that were once illegal and banned in their home countries.

Content creators like James Jones, otherwise known as @notoriouscree, often use the app to educate TikTok users on Indigenous culture. Besides showcasing his incredible hoop dancing, he touches on subjects like Indigenous history, identity, traditional regalia, and the significance of his braids. Jones, from the Tallcree First Nation, says in one TikTok video, "I was taught that, as Indigenous people, our hair is an extension of our spirit and to always braid my hair with positive thoughts so I can carry that energy with me throughout the day," Jones explained. "It wasn't that long ago my people were forced to cut their hair in residential schools, so I braid my hair to honor my ancestors."

Even though there are hundreds of distinct Native nations in the U.S., Native peoples are invisible to many Americans. The Reclaiming Native Truth project, the largest public opinion research initiative ever conducted by and for Native peoples, found that 72% of Americans rarely encounter or receive information about Native Americans.

Amanda Clinton, a member of the Cherokee Nation and owner of A.R. Clinton: Communications, Content, and Strategies, talks about the invisibility that Native peoples face in American society. "I'm often asked what are the top issues facing Natives in this country and it's always going to be things like health care, access to clean water, housing, those types of things, but invisibility is also going to be in that top tier of challenges facing Natives," Clinton explained. "And that's because, until we can truly be seen as contemporary, modern people, we can never truly address those other problems. As long as Native mascots persist, as long as racist stereotypes exist, we're not [going to be] truly seen as equal."

TikTok As Storytelling

Oral storytelling has always played an important role in most Indigenous cultures. It's used to pass down knowledge from one generation to another, and it continues to be a way to resist losing elements of culture like language and history. Not only are Native creators introducing people from other cultures to their traditions, but these videos can be seen as an act of decolonization and resistance, showing users that Native people and their cultures still exist.

Despite an increasingly interconnected world, Indigenous communities are still underrepresented online, in the media, and on apps. Thanks to platforms like TikTok, Native creators are showing their day-to-day lives to users that might not be familiar with their traditions. Patuk Glenn, an Iñupiaq woman from Alaska, uses TikTok to showcase her daily life, covering everything from hunting methods to her favorite traditional foods. In one video on her TikTok account @patukglenn, she walks viewers through a siġḷuaq (or ice cellar), where whale, seal, and other traditional foods are stored.

Plus, these videos show the diversity and unique traditions within different communities. Instead of lumping Native peoples together into one mass culture, the varied videos on the app highlight the vast differences that exist among Indigenous communities. TikTok audiences can learn about languages nearing extinction from Native Americans in the United States or traditional dances from Indigenous communities in Canada.

Jingle dancer and singer Tia Wood, who is Plains Cree and Salish, uses her TikTok account, @tiamiscihk, to empower other Indigenous people. Her videos bring attention to important issues facing Indigenous women today and offer insight into Indigenous history. "At one point in time, we weren't allowed to dance or sing. We were put into residential schools and were punished if we showed any form of cultural practice," Wood said in one TikTok video. "So, I dance for those who couldn't. We are still here."

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