Erin Simon has been sober for over two years.
A year and a half of that sobriety, she credits to a virtual community she’s found through TikTok — the video sharing app known for its dance and comedy videos.
“It’s a healing place to go because we’re so alone right now with this pandemic and TikTok is a big family” said Simon, who is Inuvialuk. “I think I would have rolled back into drinking and smoking because it’s so lonely. We can’t get together like it used to be.”
Simon began TikTok-ing from Inuvik, N.W.T., to pass the time when the lockdown began last spring. Her videos range from dances to skits poking fun at herself and her culture. Meanwhile, serious glimpses into her life showcase trips on medical travel and messages of gratitude.
“It’s just amazing. Once you get on there, you learn different things, learn different cultures, learn how to cook different things. It’s beautiful,” Simon said.
Some of Simon’s videos now have as many as 19,600 views.
“Seeing others posting makes me feel like I’m not alone in this because a lot of people are suffering right now, especially with this pandemic.”
Part of the community, Simon said, is “having supporters just checking up on you and having friends that you haven’t met but care for you.”
As a child of residential school survivors, Simon said she never grew up learning about her family history as it was too painful for her parents to talk about.
Through TikTok, Simon has learned more about her roots.
“Just being able to hear [stories] is actually healing, letting all the demons go, letting all of those bad stories that are stuck inside of them go. Together we can do that … It’s amazing how it can just touch somebody,” Simon said of the app’s short videos.
Sherry McKay, an influencer and professional TikToker, describes the Indigenous TikTok space much like any other non-virtual community.
“You have elders, people who are knowledge keepers, and you have the clowns, people that make others laugh and smile, and then you have the activists and the warriors and the drummers and the dancers and it’s all on TikTok,” McKay said.
“It’s become this pretty neat place that, I couldn’t imagine if we ever had the opportunity to all just gather in one space and hang out. I think it would be absolutely amazing.”
McKay is Anishinaabe living in Winnipeg. She says that supporting other Indigenous content creators is important because “representation really matters.”
“When we’re represented in media, a lot of times it’s not accurate so when we have the opportunity to play those parts ourselves as who we are and what we look like, it helps give our youth and our people more confidence in our identity.”
That representation is what what drives Tuktoyuktuk, N.W.T., TikToker Christina King, a fashion designer and artist looking to share Inuvialuit culture.
“I saw so many cultures, Indigenous cultures, from around the world and all over Canada being represented and just not very much in Inuvialuit,” she said. “So I found some courage to make a few videos and just show some of the clothing I had and it took off from there.”
‘A powerful tool’
King, like Simon, also took up TikTok as a pandemic pastime. She now has almost 30,000 followers.
While there can be negativity and racist comments through TikTok, like many virtual platforms, King said that TikTok is “such a supportive community.”
Most rewarding for King is to have elders messaging her to “keep it up,” and knowing her nieces and their friends check her page daily. “To me, that was so powerful that they’re checking because they’re seeing themselves represented,” she said.
“They’re seeing positive representations of Inuvialuit and what it means to be proud of your identity.”
“It can be a powerful tool for change and positivity and growth and connection within our communities.”