More than ever before, Indigenous people globally are creating conversations around the historic and contemporary injustices that their communities face. While the North has obvious geographic barriers to facilitate these conversations, many Indigenous Northerners are taking to Twitter and other social media to carve spaces for important conversations from territory to territory, nation to nation.
Many profiles date back to five or six years ago as the internet became more affordable and accessible in the North, and people started talking about the unique issues they face in their respective territories. As more people discovered the platform, conversations and communities began connecting and expanding, creating an insightful exchange about social issues across the North. With many Northern stories unable to break into southern media, these conversations are happening in the public domain and act as a record for real issues.
For Indigenous Northerners, the digital community on Twitter is helping to facilitate vital information about civil rights, facilitating networking and the sharing of information so that movements taking place in one corner of the Arctic can be observed and applied in another. For Northern settlers, following these conversations is a way to listen and learn about Indigenous issues and culture where the onus is not on First Nations to teach settlers about colonial oppression, but following these conversations is an accessible opportunity to be an informed ally without causing any more work for Indigenous people.
The following are five people taking part in creating diverse conversations about Northern Indigenous issues and culture on Twitter. While by no means a definitive list or a ranking, it is a snapshot of the kinds of conversations happening, and why they are important. (Note: Because gender pronouns were not specifically given within individual bios, some gender neutral language is being used below.)
1. Madeleine Redfern @madinuk
“Arctic indigenous business woman, Ajungi Group, LLB, clerked SCC. Cultural & socio-economic benefits through business development, good governance & high-tech.”
If Redfern’s pun of a Twitter handle “mad inuk” provides any indication of their approach to their dialogue, she’s not afraid to call out injustice. A resident of Iqaluit, Nunavut, Redfern is an active user that is consistently a voice to call-out and bring attention to injustice. Whether it’s discussing the injustices around #BlackLivesMatter or the Arctic food crisis, Redfern has been a voice of strong and informed insight on Nunavut issues. (Note: Redfern is also mayor of Iqaluit but keeps a separate Twitter handle for her municipal role @MayorMadeleine.)
2. Chantel Rondeau @ChantalGRondeau
“Northern Tutchone/Acadian Broadcast Journalist, writer and blogger from Yukon Territory. Modern Day NDN Princess *Tweets are my own. My opinion only*”
What’s significant about Rondeau is that her political dialogue is balanced with pop culture, fashion, and humour. It is contemporary Indigenous culture at its most real. This account indulges in episodic live tweets of Orange Is The New Black while retweeting articles about missing and murdered Indigenous women. Self identified as a “Modern Day NDN Princess”, Rondeau is always proving power in the feminine.
3. the gwitchin kris @GwitchinKris
“gwich’in. dad. i come from beautiful land.”
Originally from Old Crow, Kris often brings forward environmental and legal issues affecting the Yukon. What is significant about his commentary is that it ranges from critical statements on fracking to expressions of love for his homeland, like in his current pinned tweet: “The laws of berry picking in my territory stated beautifully,” in reference to a What’s Up Yukon article. The importance of Kris’ words can be summarized in a June 16, 2016 tweet: “How much are they spending on Canada’s 150th birthday instead of clean drinking water again?” His account’s header photo currently features a pair of smiling female Elders in stunning floral head scarves, shining light on the recognition of Elders in these digital spaces, even if the Elders are not tweeting themselves.
4. AKU-MATU @AKU-MATU
“AKU-MATU is my #rap name. I create installation art. #Indigenous focused positive tweets. #Kaktovik Iñupiaq Ancestors. I activate anti-bodies and #followback.”
Based out of Anchorage, Alaska, it’s hard to describe AKU-MATU as anything but an absolute delight to follow. They often post poetry tweets, and snapshots of art they’re working on or art they are inspired by. While some tweets are hardened and political, their strength on Twitter is in shedding light on the absolute talent of Northern Indigenous artists. They challenge what Indigenous art is, and show the public the diverse truth about Iñupiaq art and culture.
“A new #Indigenous host each week!”
While this account is technically not specific to the North, it operates by having Indigenous guests hosts from across Canada. With over 6,000 followers, the conversations originating from this handle are significant in broadcasting Indigenous issues from nation to nation across Canada. This account epitomizes the capacity to create digital communities around a central struggle. It facilitates networking between groups, and provides opportunities to learn about physical communities other than your own. The kind of education and cross-country understanding this account creates demonstrates the power of social media’s role in modern social dialogue.
The fact that accounts like these are being used and followed to such a degree raises the question of whether or not the nation have reacted the way it did to certain tragedies, such as the ongoing crisis in Attawapiskat, if such an online space did not exist. The heart-breaking story of this remote Northern community was shared with the south and eventually made its way into the mainstream news cycle. In a world without social media, a tragedy like this didn’t have the opportunity to leave the community, let alone reach the ears of the Prime Minister.
Any Northerner knows that nothing can be accomplished without community action. These conversations are revolving around ideas that are growing. They’re gaining more attention across the North, and are facilitating an understanding of the challenges that Indigenous Northerners face. Having such conversations take place on social media gives them the power and opportunity to reach enough people to influence policy. In the digital world, this is where change happens.
Photo:Uncalno Tekno (CC)