TikTok Canada and the National Screen Institute (NSI) are launching a new “accelerator program” aimed at growing the brands of Indigenous content creators.
To be eligible for the program, applicants must be a Canadian citizen or permanent resident living in Canada, ages 18 or over and be an Indigenous person: someone who is First Nation, Métis or Inuit.
Applicants must also be currently active on TikTok with a minimum of four public posts in the last 30 days. All eligible Indigenous TikTok creators are encouraged to apply “no matter their view count or number of followers.”
The program is part-time: two to three 90-minute online sessions per week spread over six weeks, with space for up to 30 creators. There is no fee to apply or participate.
Applications for the program are due Oct. 1, and can be accessed at https://nsi-canada.ca/courses/tiktok-indigenous-creators/apply/
One of the course’s leads is content creator and comedian Sherry McKay, who has amassed more than 480,000 followers on TikTok. McKay and Justina Neepin are working as program advisors, with Sarah Simpson-Yellowquill and Cheyenne Bruneau working as the program’s co-managers.
“I guess I never expected to be where I am today,” McKay said in an interview with Windspeaker.com. “It's been wonderful. It's been an incredible journey.”
McKay highlighted how the accelerator program is “specifically tailored from an Indigenous perspective.”
“What that means is that it helps Indigenous creators create,” McKay said. “I always tell people that you don't have to create ‘Native content’ on TikTok to be an Indigenous content creator. You just simply have to exist as an Indigenous person. You could do cooking. You could do cosplay. You could do whatever you want.”
As for her role with the program, McKay said she’s excited to introduce creators to the techniques that have helped rapidly grow her brand.
“There's a lot of work behind the scenes that people don't see,” McKay said. “We're going to talk about imposter syndrome, camera techniques, lighting, social consciousness. Things that you won't even really think about, like, ‘Oh, you're just making TikToks.’ But these are really important things to help us understand our social presence.”
McKay is a band member of Sakgeeng First Nation and grew up in Winnipeg, and she said her time using TikTok has allowed her to connect with Indigenous accounts worldwide.
“I've learned so much from other people from nation to nation... all different types of Indigenous people,” McKay said.
“It’s incredibly important to learn the differences of each other but also the similarities, and things that we can relate to one another on, and not just the struggles of being Indigenous but also the beautiful parts and the things that make us who we are.”
McKay said she found that TikTok’s platform has changed the way she views her own career, which has shifted to include many educational videos about Indigenous history and culture.
“I just wanted to share Indigenous comedy,” McKay said about her initial expectations about signing up for TikTok. “I was kind of thrown into the advocacy part of it.”
McKay said that one of the things she’s seen with her TikTok account is having people relate their experiences of being told that they don’t look like a “traditional” Indigenous person.
“I would have people that went through the same thing and they could relate throughout their entire lives,” McKay said. “It inspired them to embrace their identity, knowing that we all kind of get this question of who we are. And so that was and is so extremely rewarding knowing that there is a place and a space for us, all Indigenous people, on the app.”
McKay said that one of her best pieces of advice is to make sure creators are focused.
“I always say to make sure that you're genuine, and you're sincere with whatever it is you're talking about, or whoever you're talking to. Because people can see right through that if you're not genuine,” McKay said.
McKay also encouraged new users to not get “too wrapped up” in having a low follower count when starting out.
“Everyone starts at zero. We all start counting at zero,” she said. “When someone says ‘I'm not a big account, I only have 80 people following me’… imagine you're in a room with 80 people staring at you.”
NSI CEO Joy Loewen said she’s grateful for McKay’s work with the program.
“Sherry brings a whole wealth of knowledge and newness and freshness to the NSI training program,” said Loewen. “She’s much needed. She does what she does so well on TikTok, so let's train more folks to do what she does.”
Loewen hopes that the program will draw from the successes of past workshops the NSI has run.
“We really use the platform to highlight where our training meets TikTok,” Loewen added. “We began the work of just shaping NSI training which we've done for 35 years into a program that is uniquely customized to meet the needs of supporting Indigenous storytellers on a TikTok platform.”
Loewen said she’s grown to love the simplicity and accessibility of TikTok as a user, as well as the diversity of topics explored on the app.
“The platform itself makes it so that it can appeal to the everyday person,” Loewen said. “You don't have to go to a movie theatre. You don't have to pay for cable in order to access it. It's just right there.”
By Adam Laskaris, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Windspeaker.com, Windspeaker.com