By Jeremy Appel, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
(ANNews) – Indigenous and Two-Spirit TiKTok creators say the app helps them cultivate a sense of community stretching farther and wider than with other social media platforms.
Two-Spirit people are Indigenous people who didn’t fit neatly into the gender binary of male and female. They’ve existed for ages, but the term used to describe them is a 20th century invention.
Historically, many healers and medicine people have been Two-Spirit, but colonization brought with it homophobia and transphobia that many Indigenous people internalized, explains TikTok creator Keisha Erwin.
Erwin admits they started using TikTok during the pandemic out of “boredom and a lot of time.” They had just quit their job and was studying at York University.
“I wanted a way to procrastinate from my obligations and TikTok was there, and it started being trendy around that time as well,” they said.
Erwin, who is a member of the Lac La Ronge Indian Band in northern Saskatchewan on their father’s side and Jamaican on their mother’s side, makes a variety of videos, from makeup tutorials to politics and celebrating the Cree language.
“My dad was part of the Sixties Scoop, so I grew up very disconnected from the my community and I’ve been on that journey of trying to re-establish relationships with my community in Saskatchewan, and learning that language,” they said.
As an up and coming filmmaker, Erwin said TikTok, with its short video format, various sound effects and filters, and viral trends, is their platform of choice.
Owen Umruh, who is also Cree, said he’s learning more about his Two-Spirit identity all the time. “I think it means different things to different people. For me, it is very much a spiritual identity. I know that I have both the masculine and feminine spirits within me,” Umruh explained. “It’s also about re-claiming my culture.”
He was raised by a white family, separated from his Indigenous culture, and TIkTok has helped him on his self-discovery journey.
But he started using TikTok when he got sober after 10 years of addiction. “I wanted to inspire people who were going through similar things, because I knew when I was at my work of addiction, I felt really alone and it would have helped to see somebody who was going through similar things,” Umruh said.
He started making YouTube videos, “but those weren’t really clicking,” so he gave TikTok a shot.
A video Umruh made of himself doing a runway walk in high heels blew up, getting about 100,000 views, and he saw the potential to reach a large audience quickly on the app.
Building off of his recovery videos, Umruh decided he wanted to share other “positive, empowering message,” which is how he began posting about his gender identity and Indigenous heritage.
“I grew up without any representation of what Indigenous people or Two-Spirit people were. The way I grew up learning about Indigenous people was always in a negative light,” he said.
TikTok gives Indigenous people the ability to tell their own stories without them being mediated by settlers, Umruh added. “It shifted everything for me. I realized [being Indigenous] was actually something to be proud of,” he said.
Erwin acknowledges social media platforms are a double-edged sword.
“It’s an extension of how our society is — very oppressive regarding sexism, homophobia, transphobia, anti-Indigenous racism, colonialism and anti-Blackness,” they said.
“But it also allows people from across Turtle Island to connect, who might have very similar experiences within our communities and allows us to build a sense of community and belonging.”
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