Indigenous

Meet some of the influencers of #NativeTwitter

For many Indigenous people on Twitter, the social media app has fostered a community where people get to learn about each other's customs, experiences and opinions.

A community of Indigenous artists, writers and thinkers has grown around the social media platform

From left to right, Alicia Elliott, Robert Jago, Chelsea Vowel and Jesse Wente. Four voices that are among thousands of people who comprise the #NativeTwitter community. (CBC)

The beauty of the internet and social media is that you can curate the content to want to see. People across the country are able to connect, bounce ideas off and occasionally argue with people they would never get to meet in person.

For many Indigenous people on Twitter, the social media app has fostered a community where people get to learn about each other's customs, experiences and opinions.

Meet a few of the influencers of #NativeTwitter.

Chelsea Vowel @apihtawikosisan

Joined Twitter: January 2012.

Mé​tis academic Chelsea Vowel is from Lac Ste. Anne, Alta., and is the author of Indigenous Writes: A Guide to First Nations, Métis, and Inuit issues in Canada. (Merissa Daborn)

You can't talk about #NativeTwitter without mentioning Chelsea Vowel. She gives credit to the Idle No More movement for creating an online community of Indigenous thinkers, artists and academics.

"It's a social space where we can focus on our issues and concerns... because those things are not represented in mainstream media," said Vowel.

One day she came across Australian Twitter account @indigenousX, where a different Indigenous person in the country hosts each week. She asked if she could do something similar in Canada, and created the @indigenousxca account. The account highlights the diversity of thought, and experiences of Indigenous Peoples across Canada.

Robert Jago: @rjjago

Joined Twitter: August 2008.

Robert Jago broke the story about Joseph Boyden's identity while hosting the @Indigenousxca account. He is a member of both Kwantlen First Nation and the Nooksack tribe. (Submitted)

In 2015, Macleans magazine called Robert Jago "The Most Dangerous Blogger in Canada" after he dug into three federal Conservative candidates' backgrounds and unearthed Internet and social media posts that caused them to withdraw from the federal election.

For Jago, Twitter is a place to talk about politics that are relevant to him. It's also a place for him to engage in critical conversations.

"My reserve in B.C. is not a democracy," he said.

"It's one of 20 reserves where there's no elected council, there's no elected chief. So It's really hard to talk about politics for me on Facebook where those people could see it."

Jago will often use "Twitter essays" to break down complex matters and uses his account to give readers a different perspective on current affairs or political hot topics.

He said his most popular tweets are the ones where he addresses racism and anti-Indigenous views.

"The ones that get the most likes and retweets are those conversations where you come up with some new angle or new approach or tactics to reply to all of the anti-Native hate."

He lives in Montreal, and he gives credit to Twitter for helping him make "real world connections" with other Indigenous people that have helped him with his writing. You can find Jago's work in publications like The Globe and Mail, as well as The Walrus.

Alicia Elliott: @wordsandguitar

Joined Twitter: March 2009.

Alicia Elliot, Tuscarora, is from Six Nations of the Grand River. She is a writer/author who is grateful for the online community of #NativeTwitter. (Ayelet Tsbari)

#NativeTwitter has been a community of support for writer Alicia Elliott. From humour, to learning, to sharing grief after the Gerald Stanley and Raymond Cormier verdicts, #NativeTwitter has been a place where she can find comfort.

"The way that people support one another is really great," said Elliot.

"If something that comes up that affects our community, it's easy for people to get the word out for other people to support."

Elliot said she believes that #NativeTwitter is helping to shape conversations in Canada and it's something Canadian media takes notice of.

"At this point, the media has to react to this platform where they aren't gatekeeping anymore. They are trying to control the narratives but at the same time, how many more people are writing op-eds now as opposed to before #NativeTwitter?"

Jesse Wente: @jessewente

Joined Twitter: March 2009.

Jesse Wente is Anishinaabe and the director of Canada's Indigenous Screen Office.

Jesse Wente has been talking about Indigenous representation in the media for a long time. When arguments over cultural appropriation boiled over in 2017, Wente was called upon to weigh in.

"Many of the people in the mainstream media pay very close attention to what goes on on #NativeTwitter, because that's where they are going to generate story ideas both in affirming the conversations that are happening, as well as pushing back against those conversations," he said.

One of his favourite things about #NativeTwitter is being able to learn about the perspectives of Indigenous women. However, he notices a disparity between the abuse that Indigenous men and women face for their views.

He thinks that it is a result of patriarchy, but said the platform is also a reflection of the broader society.

"The colonial project has always targeted women first. because they're the life givers," he said.

"That's how you destroy a society and a culture is by taking away their women. I think Indigenous women are the most oppressed group in all of Canada. I don't think it's surprising that those things are recreated on a platform."

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About the Author

Lenard Monkman is Anishinaabe from Lake Manitoba First Nation, Treaty 2 territory. He is the co-founder of Red Rising Magazine and has been an associate producer with the CBC's Indigenous unit for three years. Follow him on Twitter: @Lenardmonkman1