Indigenous youth using memes and hashtags As resistance

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.

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Review: Bonita Lawrence and Indigenous Identity.

Bonita Lawrence’s explanation of identity is one that is very important to me.  I identify as a non-status Métis, and I have been struggling with my family to retrace back to my roots.  My papa (my mother’s father) is Métis, but he will not admit this.  As a child, my papa’s mother dropped him off at, what he recalls to be an orphanage, when he was about seven years old.  After listening to his stories, doing my own research on Indigenous identity, and comparing these to my papa’s rejection of his Métis identity, I am very certain that my family is a representation of colonial success.  At present, my family identifies as French-Canadian and Scottish, and Lawrence’s work continually explains to me that his is because of the government’s regulation of identities.

Lawrence’s discussion about the colonial legislation’s regulation of and control over First Nations’ identities connects to that of trans identities.  Lawrence notes that, “the numbered treaties were thus crucial to the project of forcibly identifying and segregating ‘halfbreeds’ from ‘Indians,’ regardless of how individuals saw themselves.” (Pg. 11)  In addition, Lawrence says that Indigenous peoples were often classified by colonial legislation, taking identity out of the individual’s hands.  This is similar to the regulation and control over trans people.  One cannot fill out a government document without checking off one of the ‘male’ or ‘female’ boxes.  Again, for another demographic of marginalized people, the legislation is regulating other people’s identities.

Although Lawrence does an impressive job at discussing the regulation of Indigenous identities, she definitely missed the mark in some areas.  It is troubling that Residential Schools, the massively misunderstood and often unknown pieces of Indigenous history, are not brought up in the article.  Lawrence claims that, “identity is […] about how history is interpreted and negotiated, and about who has the authority to determine a group’s identity or authenticity.” (Lawrence pg. 4)  This claim is interesting because it is exactly what she is doing when she misses such pivotal events in First Nations’ histories.  Residential Schools, which were absolutely centered around the regulation of Indigenous identities, get zero attention in this piece, which shows Lawrence’s authority, whether conscious or not, over how histories are discussed in this piece.

Given the focus on gender inequality and the time in which the work was written, one would think that a discussion of the Missing Women’s case would be a significant topic of interest.  However, aside from noting the “unimaginable levels of violence, which includes, […] sexist oppression” (pg. 5), Lawrence barely touches upon violence against women, let alone missing Aboriginal women and girls in Canada.  Neglecting a discourse on violence against women in a piece that aims to discuss the intersections between race and gender, does a serious disservice to First Nations women.  I’m not sure whether or not it would be worse if Lawrence consciously chose not to discuss violence against women in a more in depth manner, or if she overlooked it.  It is possible that Lawrence chose not to discuss violence against women in an attempt to focus purely on the regulation of First Nations identity.  However, I would argue that violence against women is in fact a form of regulating Indigenous identities.

Bonita Lawrence, “Gender, Race, and the Regulation of Native Identity in Canada and the United States: An Overview”, Hypatia, Vol. 18, No. 2, Spring 2003: 3-31