Indigenous creators tell their stories on TikTok

(ANNews) - There aren’t many other Inuit people where Braden Kadlun resides.

He moved to Calgary a couple years ago looking for a “fresh start” with his partner, whom he met after a stint in rehab on Eskasoni, a Mi’kmaq reserve near Cape Breton, N.S., to address an addiction to alcohol and stimulants.

Now he’s able to embrace his Inuit culture and share his recovery journey with a large international audience on TikTok while he completes his undergraduate degree in philosophy at the University of Calgary, joining a growing number of young Indigenous TikTok creators.

“I come from a small community of under 3,000 and I grew up in a community of 20,000, so reaching 200,000 [views] is mind boggling. And just having their support has really helped me with my sobriety journey,” Kadlun, who goes by @kadlun on the app, said. “It's really given me something to look forward to.”

Kadlun said he owes his success as a TikTok creator to his mother, Hovak, whom he describes as an “amazing figure in the Inuit world with her advocacy and her work in revitalizing traditional Inuit tattoos.” She lives in Behchokǫ̀, N.W.T., an Inuit community on the coast of Great Slave Lake, about 110 km northwest of Yellowknife.

“I was really trying to push her to get on the platform and she wouldn't budge until we came up with a deal that I'd be in the videos with her, and then it slowly turned into me sharing about my own personal journey, along with Inuit culture on my own channel,” he explained.

Kadlun’s channel includes a “host of different things pertaining to Inuit culture,” with an emphasis on cuisine “and what our traditional diet looks like,” alongside more personal videos.

He said the support he’s received from other Inuk people online has been “crazy.”

“They love seeing the representation of just seeing someone eating our food online and sharing about the little things,” Kadlun said.

He added that his favourite Inuit dish is Muktuk, which is made of narwhal skin and blubber, which he likes to enjoy with some soy sauce on the side.

Harlan Kingfisher, the Fort Saskatchewan-based owner and CEO of Smudge the Blades—the first Indigenous hockey clothing brand on Turtle Island—said TikTok has been great for business.

“People are going to my page, watching the video and hitting my link to my website, jumping over buying gear,” said Kingfisher, who posts as @smudgetheblades.

His content has evolved since he started posting during the Covid pandemic, when hockey tournaments were cancelled across Turtle Island.

“When I first started, it was all about my business,” he said. But as he got sucked into the app, he was drawn into more educational videos about Indigenous history, which he attempted to incorporate into the Smudge the Blades brand.

Those who follow Smudge the Blades will learn not just what Kingfisher is selling but about the history of Indigenous hockey and notable players.

Many of his followers are Indigenous hockey players themselves, but his target audience isn’t limited to prospective clientele.

“There's like millions, if not billions, of people on TikTok who don't know about Indigenous culture, so when a video of mine, or anybody's, pops up on their feed, they're learning about our culture. They're learning about something they never knew before,” said Kingfisher.

Lakeeysha Marie, an Edmonton-based poet, artist and dancer of Plains Cree descent, said she tries to change the narrative about Indigenous people through her TikTok content, which she posts under the handle @lakeeyshamarie.

“You often hear a lot of stories about Indigenous people and, more often than not, they come from a suffering point of view. But in my poetry, I like to talk about some of the positive aspects of our culture,” said Marie, who grew up in Grande Prairie.

She said her TikTok presence initially consisted of “posting little silly videos about humorous things and whatnot.”

That changed when she decided to post a video of her reading one of her poems on the app.

“The feedback that I got from people was not what I was expecting at all and that's really what motivated me to keep sharing my words,” Marie said.

While the workings of TikTok’s algorithm are obscure to users, she appreciates that “it always puts what I want to see around me,” which has enabled her to draw “inspiration and creativity” from other Indigenous creators, engaging in an artistic “give and take.”

Marie said the nature of the app is conducive towards amplifying Indigenous traditions.

“Storytelling is something that is in your blood,” said Marie. “So you shouldn't feel hesitant to express yourself and show those parts of yourself because that's who you are. TikTok is a platform that encourages that.”

Jeremy Appel, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Alberta Native News