If the sordid sameness of influencer content gets on your nerves, you’re not alone. The first influencers may have been true disruptors, but much of today’s Instagram landscape is in the grip of market forces and calculated algorithms that result in a surfeit of rose-tinted, Euro-centric imagery. Hashtags can often be dominated by thin, light-skinned bodies and whitewashed discourse.
As a community, Indigenous content creators are redefining the word “influencer,” with its unsavory associations of sweetheart deals and over-curation. Viewed collectively, their work unfolds from the triple axes of community, resistance and resilience.
“Colonial narratives framed us as people without culture and brilliance needing to be ‘saved,’” Indigenous rights advocate Sarain Fox told HuffPost. “We’re surviving policies that were meant to eliminate our existence and traumas that were intentional, systematic and designed to silence us. Our contributions are left out of textbooks. I want our people to see themselves as the incredible creations they are and to be proud of the people we come from. Representation matters. Our stories and perspectives matter.”
Riding these motivations, personal style and artistry in traditional craft become especially powerful vehicles for political convictions. Most Indigenous influencers’ pages feature elaborate tribal regalia. Secular clothing is elevated and made meaningful with special touches: custom footwear (mukluks and moccasins), beaded jewelry made by local talent, be-ribboned tiers and hand-embroidered appliqué. T-shirts (like these by Stormie Perdash, Salty Black Sheep Creations and OXDX), makeup, and now face masks, are viewed as especially appealing canvases for protest. “For the first time, we are unapologetically taking up the space which has been withheld from us for so long. It is an exciting time for creativity,” Native-rights focused environmental activist Nikita Kahpeaysewat said.
Increasingly, Indigenous creators are calling out the dissonance between their lived experiences and dominant narratives in the media. When Kylie Jenner posted vacation photos in a slot canyon near Utah in the middle of the pandemic, she was criticized by Native voices for potentially endangering the health of the COVID-19-ravaged population in the nearby Navajo Nation, home to tribes most disproportionately affected by the disease. With hashtags like #whiteprivilege, people pointed out that the least she could have done was use her considerable celebrity to shine a light on the issue. To non-Native people, there was nothing off about Jenner’s photoshoot.
“Growing up, being inundated by images and ideals that are not relatable can seriously affect your mental well-being as an Indigenous person,” said Patuk Glenn, a popular content creator who heads a small nonprofit that works to improve the lives of isolated villagers in a big swath of the Arctic. “Often social media platforms push ‘community guidelines’ based on values that are not relatable to Indigenous communities. For example, our posts are removed because seeing dead animals is not acceptable. ... When Indigenous peoples of the Arctic rely on animals for subsistence for a majority of their diet, why are we unable to share these images? We have the utmost respect for the animals that give us life. What this means is that there is a fundamental difference in what the mainstream culture values, and what Indigenous people value. In a way, our voices are suppressed because of this difference in values, and that to me is another form of systemic racism,” she told HuffPost.
We’ve rounded up 26 must-follow content creators below.
1. Lily Yeung
Follow for: A cerebral take on whimsy. Yeung works upcycled vintage clothing like a dream.
2. Sarain Fox
Heritage: Anishinaabe from Batchawana First Nation
Follow for: Endorsements of Indigenous excellence in everything from fashion design to filmmaking. Fox’s bracing personal style (an elegant mix of off-the-runway, street and traditional) will have you taking notes. She mines personal experiences and Native histories to tell her stories, and is well loved and widely respected for her advocacy work.
Heritage: Red River Métis-Cree
Follow for: The arrestingly beautiful face of “Tribal,” a new crime drama that pits Matten’s character against her racist partner’s. Matten is vocal about her politics, and this informs her choice of roles and personal style alike. She has also starred in Netflix show “Frontier,” a period piece set in the 1700s about an ambitious outlaw (Jason Momoa) with his sights on North America’s lucrative fur trade.
Heritage: A:shiwi, Yoeme, Rarámuri
Follow for: Powerful, moving portraits of Native life that confront mainstream (white) narratives with grace and dignity. Karmelo Amaya’s lens and vision is what makes his brand of storytelling especially unforgettable.
5. Jocy Bird
Heritage: Mandan, Hidatsa, Arikara, Dakota
Follow for: Stills and clips from Bird’s stunning pow-wow performances that make her look otherworldly.
Heritage: Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa, Standing Rock Sioux Tribe
Follow for: Serene, therapeutic shots of Luger working out in beautiful gear. Luger and her partner are committed to pushing Indigenous representation in health and wellness media. Her fierce intellect comes through in her writing online; Luger was the first to break the Dakota Access Pipeline story at the behest of the tribal government at the time.
7. Sage Paul
Follow for: Style lessons in centering authenticity. Paul, who is the founding creative director of Indigenous Fashion Week Toronto, is radiant in everything she wears, and likes to finish her look with a nod to her roots. It’s always fun to discover design talent on her page, which she uses to amplify Native craftsmanship. Her own design language is raw and emotional, alive with the collective grief and rage of tribes across Native country. It is not meant to soothe: it is meant to unsettle, provoke, expose the strength and vulnerability of her people. Paul casts a wide net for inspiration, and her shares on Indigenous fashion history are bookmark-worthy.
8. James Jones
Follow for: Nuggets on Indigenous style and culture framed by Jones’ gentle humor. Jones is riveting no matter what: dancing in magnificent regalia, explaining why he wears his hair long or calling out cultural appropriation.
Heritage: Cree from Enoch Cree First Nation
Follow for: Callingbull’s efforts to expand Indigenous representation in media and entertainment via modeling assignments, glam photo shoots and content collaborations with fellow artists and activists.
Heritage: Tlingit, Filipino, Kanien’kehá:ka
Follow for: Monture Päki’s storytelling and magical photographs. Her unusual beauty has animated several campaigns by Indigenous designers.
Follow for: Kahpeaysewat’s fierce personal style that consistently foregrounds land rights, environmental autonomy and community building.
12. Tia Wood
Heritage: Plains Cree, Salish
Follow for: Uplifting Native takes on popular trends in music and pop culture. Wood is a musician and uses her wryly funny online voice to tackle serious stuff. Her account is filled with gorgeous photos of her attending community events in regalia.
13. Larissa Crawford
Follow for: Glimpses into Crawford’s work on decolonizing conversations and social spaces, thrown into sharp relief by her honest photography.
14. Jamie Okuma
Heritage: Luiseno, Shoshone Bannock
Follow for: Regal fashion that visibly transforms the wearer. Okuma’s unfailingly exquisite work as a beading maestro and designer is part of many notable museum exhibits. Her page is a showcase for upcoming launches, sneak peeks at process and technique and reposts of people rocking her creations with pride.
Heritage: Yup’ik Inuit
Follow for: The surreal beauty of Nakrialnguq’s travel and style diary. Her photos feature breathtaking natural backdrops in an assertion of Native identity as a thing inextricable from nature.
16. Ryan Oliverius
Heritage: Syilx from the Okanagan Nation
Follow for: Tender photo dispatches from the reservation. His work radiates small-town warmth and still feels radical.
17. Lesley Hampton
Heritage: Temagami First Nation
Follow for: Fun, sophisticated fashion that is serious about giving back. Hampton, who is both a model and a designer, strives to normalize all body types and ethnicities in couture. Her genius lies in pushing limits on form and texture: check out Never Have I Ever star Maitreyi Ramakrishnan in her extraordinary textured bomber here. Her inclusive casting calls, shoutouts to relatively little known artists and BTS shares are the best things about her page.
18. Kendra Jessie
Heritage: Cree from Sucker Cree First Nation
Follow for: Flawless on-trend streetwear looks that mirror Jessie’s anti-colonial politics. Jessie is most recognizable as one among the many striking faces of Cheekbone Beauty, a Native-owned and -run beauty brand.
Follow for: Eye makeup that uses every color in the rainbow, all the better to stand out in a masked new world!
20. Patuk Glenn
Follow for: Fascinating looks at life in the Arctic via Glenn’s twinkling persona. Earlier this year, a TikTok video she made about the ice cellar behind her mother’s home went viral. Whether she’s repping local designers in her pretty atikluks (a type of functional over-garment with big pockets in the front and an optional gentle flare at the hem) or sporting jewelry made with unique natural materials, Glenn’s page is a goldmine of information on her community’s way of life.
21. Naiomi Glasses
Follow for: Color-drenched shots of Glasses in traditional garments and exquisite jewelry. No one does big blouses and full, sweeping skirts better!
22. Casey Jake Smith
Follow for: A visual upending of perceptions around Indigenous folks practicing medicine. Smith, who is a doctor, uses both personal style and commentary on his other page, @rezziesinmedicine, to grow interest in minority health care priorities.
Heritage: Woodland Cree
Follow for: Hair and makeup inspiration. Custer-Sewap adds her own twist to viral trends like Billie Eilish’s punchy neon head-to-toe look and Kim Kardashian’s mermaid hair.
24. Korina Emmerich
Heritage: Puyallup from Coast Salish Territory
Follow for: Emmerich’s quietly disruptive design vocabulary. Her work as a fashion designer is anchored firmly in Native rights advocacy and the slow fashion movement.
Follow for: Dazzling documentary-style photography that is unflinchingly political.
26. Kahara Hodges
Heritage: Diné, English, Mexican, African-American
Follow for: Sweet reflections on motherhood, representation and diversity in the beauty and fashion industries and life in Native country. Hodges, who is also an accomplished vocalist, has modeled for Nike, KKW Beauty and L’Oreal.