How Indigenous social media influencers inspired podcast host on journey of self-discovery

·3 min read
Jeremy Ratt is the host of a new CBC podcast called Pieces about his personal journey toward better understanding his Woods-Cree roots. He said that journey was helped by seeing Indigenous influencers on social media platforms like TikTok. (Ben Nelms/CBC - image credit)
Jeremy Ratt is the host of a new CBC podcast called Pieces about his personal journey toward better understanding his Woods-Cree roots. He said that journey was helped by seeing Indigenous influencers on social media platforms like TikTok. (Ben Nelms/CBC - image credit)

Inuk throat singer Shina Novalinga has eight million views and counting of a TikTok video showing her casually snacking on raw caribou.

Cree hoop dancer James Jones has racked up over four million for a clip of himself performing to traditional tunes in his living room.

And who can forget the TikTok video of Nathan Apodaca skateboarding to Fleetwood Mac tunes that was now been watched almost 80 million times?

Indigenous influencers are here. They have made a space for themselves on social media and are using it to showcase their talents and cultures, bridge societal divides, and spotlight Indigenous art, humour and ways of life.

Jeremy Ratt, host of the CBC podcast Pieces, says his journey toward understanding his Indigenous identity, which is charted in the podcast, was made easier by the contributions Indigenous influencers are making online.

"It was a really essential step because it established that I wasn't alone in my problems, I wasn't alone in not feeling Indigenous enough due to those external voices," said 19-year-old Ratt, speaking on CBC's The Early Edition about his podcast.

'Amplify our voices'

Sherry McKay, an Oji-Cree TikTok influencer in Winnipeg, told Ratt that while she uses her platform to educate and make people laugh, it also helps her assert herself as an Indigenous person.

"It's kind of like walking in two worlds," she said. "Trying to maintain your identity as an Indigenous person and then also acknowledging that you are white passing or light skin."

McKay says Indigenous people don't want their stories to be told by non-Indigenous people anymore.

Instead, "we want them to amplify our voices," she told Ratt.

Sherry McKay, who is from Sagkeeng First Nation and lives in Winnipeg, has amassed almost 400,000 followers on TikTok.
Sherry McKay, who is from Sagkeeng First Nation and lives in Winnipeg, has amassed almost 400,000 followers on TikTok.

Those voices have long been muted and misrepresented by mainstream media, says Candis Callison, an associate journalism professor at the University of British Columbia.

She says social media has given Indigenous people their narrative back.

"The ways in which they use these platforms to hold mainstream media accountable is really a game-changer," said Callison, who is Tahltan.

Definition of 'influencer'

Shayla Oulette Stonechild, who is Plains Cree and an Aboriginal Peoples Television Network host, has an Instagram account with over 40,000 followers. She said she never thought of herself as an influencer until someone threw the term her way.

"Because really, what an influencer is is showing people another way of life and influencing people to maybe make changes or to bring awareness to issues that people may not know about," she said.

Stonechild says her content ideas often come to her through ceremony, meditation and yoga practice.

"Then I know it's coming through spirit and not intellect," she said.

Ratt told The Early Edition that Stonechild's content resonated with him because there is a spiritual element to Pieces as well.

"The biggest part of Pieces was really connecting with my family ... and being connected more to my culture and my Indigenous side," he said. "It was such a powerful thing for me to really take in because it's led to some of the most transformative moments in my journey."

The impact Indigenous influencers have had on Ratt's journey to better understand his Woods-Cree roots have inspired him to start his own TikTok account.

"Making art and creating content online has always interested me since I was a kid," he said. "I'm not sure what I'll do on TikTok yet, but my conversations with Sherry and company have made me want to take those first steps."

Pieces is a five-part CBC podcast that explores what it means to be Indigenous. Join 19-year-old Jeremy Ratt on a journey of self discovery as he seeks to understand his roots and all of the distinct "pieces" that form who he is today.

You can subscribe now wherever you get your podcasts.

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