Indigenous meme creators point out harsh truths with dark humour

For Indigenous creators, memes offer a chance to weigh in on Canadian society by using humour, education and the occasional jab at Canadian and Indigenous politicians.

'We're making our own jokes and I feel like it lessens the blow a bit,' says Taran Kootenhayoo

There are few things that can get a point across as quickly as an internet meme.

For their Indigenous creators, memes offer a chance to weigh in on Canadian society by using humour, education and the occasional jab at Canadian and Indigenous politicians.

Arnell Tailfeathers says memes represent a new art form and a chance for himself, as a visual artist, to express his views.

"I began thinking what I could do with [memes] in terms of decolonization and what's happening in Canada right now," said Tailfeathers.

"Some people are doing comforting stuff to make you feel good, but then other people are doing deep political things with it."

'​It can be pretty dark at times'

Tailfeathers, who is Niitsitapi, grew up on the Kainai Blood reserve. He was the first person in his family to attend a public school that wasn't a residential school and he went on to get a bachelor's degree in fine arts in new media from the University of Lethbridge.

"I kind of have the Blackfoot humour," he said.

"It can be pretty dark at times but I think it's inherent to be like that, to deal with stuff like colonization and genocide."

Tailfeathers uses his memes to take aim at some of the historical truths of the relationship between Indigenous Peoples and Canada. But he doesn't hesitate to take contemporary jabs at Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Assembly of First Nations national chief Perry Bellegarde and the "failure of reconciliation."

"[Reconciliation] doesn't seem to be working," he said.

"I know some people would describe it as further colonization — it's weaponized against us for pipelines and other [natural] resources that Canada wants to get at."

Incorporating culture

Not only does Indigenous meme culture offer insights into Indigenous humour, it also gives people a look into Indigenous cultural perspectives.

"The first meme that I made wasn't political," said Jade Baxter.

"It was engaging with this teaching that I was brought up on, of not leaving your windows uncovered at night so that you're not inviting spirits inside."

She found out later that the teaching was also relevant in other Indigenous nations as well.

"It was taking a well-known cultural teaching and making it something that was consumable online in a fun and wholesome way," she said.

Baxter has been making memes for a year and is part of a collective comprised of women, non-binary and trans people known as the

Their Instagram bio reads: "Dismantling the settler-colonial heteropatriarchy one meme at a time."

'We're making our own jokes'

The idea of fighting back against settler colonial culture through humour is something that Taran Kootenhayoo can relate to.

Kootenhayoo runs his own meme page on Instagram known as @dadfights.

His memes range from making jokes about meals that combine Kraft Dinner and wieners to the racism that Indigenous Peoples experience.

"I think we all internalize the things we have to carry from the past, things like white supremacy, residential schools — all of us our dealing with these different traumas," said Kootenhayoo.

Instagram has given them a platform to share their creations.

"We're making our own jokes and I feel like it lessens the blow a bit," he said.

"We're moving beyond being victims."

Although the three creators have been producing content for only a year, they feel meme creation is likely to grow in the Indigenous community.

"It's really coming about," said Tailfeathers.

"Unfortunately there's not enough Indigenous movies and TV shows to base the memes off of. So we're stuck using people from other ethnicities to represent us."



Lenard Monkman is Anishinaabe from Lake Manitoba First Nation, Treaty 2 territory. He was an associate producer with CBC Indigenous.