Day 6

Indigenous creators get a boost from TikTok accelerator program

The 30 participants in TikTok’s accelerator program for Indigenous creators take vastly different approaches on the platform, from comedy to music to cooking to sharing Indigenous knowledge. But many of them say it’s a chance to raise Indigenous voices and stories on a popular platform.

Program offers chance to uplift Indigenous voices and stories, say participants

Jocelyn Joe-Strack (left), Sebastian Gaskin (centre) and Eagle Blackbird (right) are all part of TikTok's accelerator program for Indigenous creators. (TikTok)

In one of Eagle Blackbird's most popular videos on TikTok, he pokes holes in stereotypes non-Indigenous people have of those who are Indigenous.

He speaks about the morning and the sun rising, using a deep voice and dropping "mmhmmms" in every couple sentences. The text above him reads "What people think natives do every morning."

It then cuts to "reality." He stretches, sits up, and says, "I'm going back to bed."

The 18-year-old from Walpole Island First Nation has a whole collection of these videos. He calls them "native reality." Some of these videos have more than a million views on TikTok.

"People out there are always wondering about our culture — and putting it in a humorous way, it's a way to connect," said Blackbird.

He is part of a growing community on TikTok, #nativetiktok, and it's getting an extra boost right now.

Earlier this month, TikTok Canada and the National Screen Institute began an accelerator program for Indigenous creators. They provide workshops to 30 Indigenous TikTokers to boost their tech skills, learn online safety and wellness, and help them increase their reach.

"TikTok can unlock real-world opportunities both on and off the platform, providing a safe and inclusive space for Indigenous creators to tell their stories and share their cultural heritage with new audiences on a global scale," said Lindsay Lynch, the director of creator partnerships and community at TikTok Canada, told CBC North.

Jocelyn Joe-Strack takes a different approach on the platform. She says that as a scientist, she's used to peer-reviewed journals and reports. So she started making TikTok videos to try something new — and to connect with younger people she works with.

"There's this whole community of people who are sharing knowledge, that are overcoming trauma, and [talking about] resistance and resurgence," said Joe-Strack, who is a member of the Wolf Clan of the Champagne and Aishihik First Nation, and is Yukon University's research chair in Indigenous knowledge. "It's an amazing place to contribute."

Her videos centre around teachings, sharing Indigenous knowledge, and typically take place out in nature.

One of her videos discusses her traditional fishing community in Yukon, and how people share the creek and salmon with bears.

Another demonstrates something she taught her daughter: how to breathe with the trees. In the video, she takes the branch of a tree in her hands and breathes in and out slowly, explaining that what we breathe out, the tree breathes in, and vice versa.

"It's just this wonderful example of how we are part of the land, and part of the water, part of nature. We fit in and we belong," said Joe-Strack.

Sebastian Gaskin has been on TikTok for years, but only recently started exploring content creation on the platform. As a musician and producer, he typically uses the platform to share his music and collaborate with others.

"I think it's extremely important that we are telling our stories as Indigenous people," said Gaskin, who lives in Winnipeg and is from the Tataskweyak Cree Nation in Manitoba.

"I truly believe that we are in the midst of an Indigenous renaissance."

For Blackbird, TikTok has given "the capability to many Indigenous people to let their voices be heard. That's through humour or awareness or teachings, and showing non-Indigenous people what we're capable of."

Written and produced by Rachel Levy-Mclaughlin.

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