Meet three Indigenous Two-Spirit TikTokers who are cultivating community online and offline – Toronto Star

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When 28-year-old Owen Unruh started his TikTok account, it was a space for him to talk about addiction awareness and his road to recovery.
He would share quick clips of kind reminders to those struggling with addiction, harm reduction tips, and updates on his own recovery process, after 10 years living with addiction.
Along his journey, Unruh, who is Plains Cree from Treaty 6 Territory, with family ties to Driftpile First Nation, started reconnecting with his Indigenous roots. And as he cemented his connections with his roots and with his Two-Spirit identity, the direction he took with his TikTok account made perfect sense.
“Historically, Two-Spirit people were ceremonial leaders, healers and medicine people,” said Unruh. “I believe what I’m meant to do in my life is heal myself and through that, inspire the healing of the people around me.”
Users who relate to him have reached out, grateful that he’s shared his story in these videos.
“When I look at it that way, I feel I am in my own way carrying on the legacy of the Two-Spirit healers and medicine people who came before me,” he said.
Two-Spirit people are Indigenous folks who carry both a masculine and feminine spirit, though the identity is quite unique to each individual. They were and continue to be an important part of Indigenous communities and Nations, often acting as mediators, caretakers, teachers and medicine people.
Two-Spirit TikToker Keisha Erwin points out that while many may interpret Two-Spirit identity through Western concepts of gender and sexuality, it goes beyond that.
“It doesn’t fit easily into the LGBTQ acronym … because it also comes with Indigenous world views and values,” said Erwin, who is nîhithaw (Woodland Cree).
As a result of colonization, and the additional impacts of homophobia, transphobia and patriarchy, Two-Spirit teachings and traditions have been hidden and stifled.
As the process of reclamation happens across Turtle Island in real life, TikTok has become a digital pillar of community building.
“Our communities online have allowed us to connect across nations, across tribes, across territories … It really allows us to feel validated,” Erwin said.
Indigenous folks across genders have made a massive mark on the platform — #IndigenousTikTok has over 2.2 billion views. And Two-Spirit creators, like Unruh and Erwin have been able to claim space for a community that has been especially marginalized.
When Erwin first joined the platform as @wapahkesis it was to be a voice for visibly mixed Indigenous Peoples like themself, a First Nations person with Black ancestry.
Erwin is a band member of Lac La Ronge Indian Band — their father was born on reserve but he was scooped at the age of four — while their mom was born in Jamaica and moved to this country at 17.
Through TikTok, Erwin has shared stories about their journey reconnecting to their roots as a nîhithaw person, connecting to family members, and in general, enjoying the online community that has been created by and for Indigiqueer people — especially youth.
To Erwin, online communities are crucial for youth who are Two Spirit and/or Indigiqueer (a term coined by a Two-Spirit filmmaker TJ Cuthand) especially if they live in communities where support to be open and affirmed in who they are, is not there.
Twenty-nine-year-old Kairyn Potts, who is from Paul First Nation and Alexis Nakota Sioux Nation, spent a lot of time working with youth day-to-day as a social worker, and it was actually his niece who encouraged him to jump on TikTok.
“‘Uncle you have to get on this app,’ and I was like, ‘No, I’m not a 12-year-old kid! I don’t need to do dances,” he said.
But eventually, he decided that in order to best serve youth, he needed to be where they were. His TikTok grew organically, through skits about living on reserve, and he expanded with lessons about his Indigenous and Two-Spirit identity.
Sharing stories online builds on something that is innate in Indigenous communities, said Potts. And it’s also a way to combat one-note narratives that have been the only story for much too long.
“I think the world is now ready to see Indigenous youth being happy and thriving and being who they are instead of always hearing about us being in foster care … and being in poverty and struggling, we already know that exists,” said Potts.
And as young Indigenous Peoples continue to use digital platforms to lead and influence the future, these creators emphasize their impact doesn’t stop there. What is also important is being grounded offline and continuing to listen, value and connect with their family, elders and communities in real life.
“Social media is great for everything that it is, but it will never compare to the connection we feel in real life,” said Unruh. “Make time to connect to the land, to family, friends, elders. Pour into these relationships and they will pour back into you.”

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