Ronnie Dean Harris, 34, woke up on Oct.18, made a meme in support of the Mi’kmaq anti-fracking blockade and the missing women’s inquiry, then went back to sleep. A few hours later, Harris signed into Facebook, and saw that his meme had been shared thousands of times.
Glen Coulthard, a Political Science and First Nations Studies professor at UBC, said that it is important for Indigenous youth to practice forms of resistance so they can preserve the land and Indigenous cultures for future generations.
Indigenous youth are using social media to show their politics to both their supporters and non-supporters. However as Harris explained, his work didn’t come from a place of activism, it came from being Indigenous.
Harris explained his activism through memes as ‘political humourism’. He said that pairing humour with First Nations issues is a very powerful way of familiarizing people to social issues.
“With me, it’s more about raising awareness and challenging people to educate themselves on what’s going on” said the Vancouver-based, multimedia artist.
Social media is allowing young Indigenous peoples to have control over their own activism. This control means that they don’t have to rely on the media to shed light on their social issues.
In fact, IdleNoMore, a series of internationally spread, Indigenous protests, had many followers on Twitter before the media even began covering the protests. This is thanks to organizers and the hashtag, #IdleNoMore.
Social Media as a Community Builder
Jerilynn Webster, a 29-year-old IdleNoMore organizer and hip-hop artist, said that she is bringing Indigenous politics into new spaces, and social media is one them.
Social media creates fast communication and community building. On Oct.18, Vancouver, IdleNoMore organizers used Facebook to bring hundreds of people together for a protest in support of the Mi’kmaq peoples in New Brunswick. This process took a mere 24 hours.
“Social media has […] opened the dialogue to the issues on a really truthful and authentic level and [it has] brought us together” said Webster.
In contrast, Coultard was slightly critical of the virtual relationships that are built through social media. He said that people often replace real-life relationships between communities with social media relationships.
However, Coulthard explained that, if Indigenous peoples can use social media as a tool, rather than a replacement for relationships, it could be an effective tool for resistance.
In addition, Twitter and Facebook also teach non-Indigenous people about First Nations issues.
IdleNoMore is using social media to improve the relationship between Indigenous peoples and the rest of Canada. Through online communication, Webster hopes that IdleNoMore’s efforts will show Canada that the movement is for the benefit of everyone.
“It’s not a First Nations issue, it’s a human issue” said Webster.
A Peaceful Resistance
Coulthard said that Indigenous resistance is often mischaracterized as violent. Social media is a peaceful outlet where Indigenous youth can express their activism through words and images. This challenges the assumed relationship between violence and protesting.
On Oct.17, First Nations peoples in New Brunswick gathered to protest fracking. Coulthard said that “the police threw everything that they had at an encampment that was, for the most part, a peaceful, civil disobedience.”
Harris said that the resolutions to many Indigenous issues would not be found through Molotov cocktails.
He hopes that this new movement of social media activism will shed light on the social issues first, which will allow for healing afterwards.