A man from Lennox Island First Nation on P.E.I. has been selected to take part in the first TikTok accelerator program for Indigenous creators.
Richard Pellissier-Lush, or LightskinInu on TikTok, has more than 40,000 followers and over 800,000 likes on the social app. Many of his posts are focused on celebrating his Mi'kmaw heritage.
"I don't try to do any impressions or fakeness, I guess you could say it's just who I am, and I think a lot of people are resonating with that," Pellissier-Lush said.
The Indigenous accelerator program was launched by TikTok in November to amplify the voices of Indigenous creators. Thirty were selected this year to receive training in storytelling and guidance from industry experts.
"I just applied and I kinda put my heart out there … I wanna be a storyteller and I wanted to make sure the youth, their voices were being heard."
Reconnecting with culture
The username Lightskinlnu comes from Pellissier-Lush's upbringing as a Mi'kmaw child with light skin — l'nu meaning Indigenous person in Mi'kmaw.
"I posted one video, for example, about wishing I had darker skin when I was a youth," he said.
He hopes indigenous people can watch his videos and feel inspired to get involved with their heritage.
"It's remarkable to see how many people are trying to reconnect with their culture and they're just, they're not comfortable, they don't feel like they should, you get imposter syndrome."
His videos are normally around 30 seconds and cover a variety of topics. Sometimes he's in colourful regalia performing traditional dances, other times he talks about life as an Indigenous person.
"I get a lot of my inspiration through my dreams and through experiences that happened to me and traumas," he said. "Whatever the moment that is happening, it comes out."
Creators in the making
As part of the accelerator program, Pellissier-Lush and the other creators are taking part in workshops and seminars with guest speakers who have even larger followings.
"One of our biggest focuses at TikTok is to amplify and elevate the voices of our creators while building an authentic, diverse and inclusive community," said Lindsay Lynch, director of creator partnerships and community at TikTok Canada.
"We are always looking for ways to support and uplift our communities, especially those who may not have a voice or are from marginalized groups.".
TikTok partnered with the National Screen Institute to make sure the creators selected for the accelerator program have the tools and education to succeed on the platform, Lynch said.
"Being a creator means managing content strategy, writing, shooting, editing, marketing, monetization and more so we wanted to make sure we covered those topics."
Lynch said creators will learn technical elements like lighting and editing, while also covering delving into social responsibility, digital wellness and career building.
Bringing diversity to life
Ali Shiri, a professor at the School of Library and Information Studies at The University of Edmonton with a PhD in information science, says he's seen first-hand how social media can be used by Indigenous communities.
He created an online library that uses digital technologies to preserve the cultural heritage of the people in the Inuvialuit region of Canada's north, where he said Facebook is the favoured platform.
He said many of Canada's Indigenous communities have been misrepresented by libraries and archives with content that is culturally inappropriate, wrong, or inaccurate.
Recording their own history using social media sets the record straight, in a way.
"By using digital technologies and social media platforms, the web as a whole, you bring that diversity to life and the proper representation of different cultures."
And thanks to TikTok, Indigenous creators like Pellissier-Lush are now connecting with people around the world, telling their stories in their own words.
"I went from being a small-time content creator to, you know, having a couple of videos kind of go viral and then the whole dynamic of the app changed for me," he said.