Gender, Sex and Tech: Continuing the Conversation
Episode Twelve: Interview with Amber Brown and Angela Knowles
Transcripts by Jennifer Jill Fellows
Jennifer Jill Fellows: This episode comes with a content warning. We will be discussing the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls and Two-Spirit People epidemic in Canada.
Jill: On July 11th, 1990, a 78 days standoff began between Mohawk protesters on the one hand, and the Quebec police, the RCMP, and the Canadian Army on the other. The protesters were objecting to the proposed expansion of a golf course and the development of townhouses on land that included a Mohawk burial ground. This period and Canadian history came to be known under two names. One, the Oka Crisis, in reference to the nearby town of Oka that was affected during the protests. And two, the Kanehsatà:ke Resistance in reference to the nearby Kanehsatà:ke reservation where many of the Mohawk protesters lived or took shelter during the standoff. At the time, Canadian mainstream media framed the Mohawk protesters as terrorists, thus upholding and inaccurate and harmful colonial narrative. But mainstream media does not dominate public consciousness nowadays in the way it did in 1990. Actually, most of my friends get their news from Twitter these days. So today, we’re going to examine to what extent things have changed or stayed the same since the Kanehsatà:ke Resistance. Or in other words, how, if at all, has social media affected the message that mainstream society receives when it comes to Indigenous activism.
Jill: Hello and welcome to Gender, Sex and Tech: Continuing the Conversation. I’m your host, Jennifer Jill Fellows. And today I’m joined by Amber Brown and Angela Knowles. Amber Brown a mixed Métis woman with Scottish, British, and Hungarian roots hailing from British Columbia. Growing up on the Kwikwetlem First Nation ancestral territory, Amber is passionate about uplifting Indigenous futurism on the lands she calls home. Her Bachelor’s degree in psychology, compliments her experiences as a youth coach, residential youth counselor and Social Work Assistant. Her vocational dream is to be a therapist specializing in Indigenous youth wellness through culturally specific practices. Angela Knowles is European, mostly Scottish and Icelandic with some Algonquin First Nation’s heritage. She has grown up and worked on the Tsawwassen and Kwantlen First Nation’s lands. She is passionate about Indigenous sovereignty and LGBTQ2S+ rights. Angela’s research for her Bachelor’s in psychology focused on anti-Indigenous racism and academia. And she hopes to continue research in that area. Her future goals include continuing her education in psychology and going on to become a therapist working in rural and under-served areas.
Jill: Hi, Amber and Angela, welcome to the show.
Angela Knowles: Hello.
Amber Brown: Hey, so good to be here.
Jill: So I want to start by noting that I think it’s really easy to forget that digital space is also physical space. And I want to really ground us in physical space. The servers and cables that connect us lie on physical space, occupy physical territory. So as I record Gender, Sex and Tech: Continuing the Conversation today, I’m mindful that I am on the unceded land of the Coast Salish peoples of the QiqéytNation where I live and learn and play and today do my work. Amber, where are you located today?
Amber: Today, I’m recording from the traditional and unceded territories of the Kwikwetlem First Nations.
Jill: And Angela where are you?
Angela: I’m coming from, the unceded territory, Kwantlen and the Tsawwassen First Nations out in Delta.
Jill: So I want to talk a little bit first of all about your academic journeys. You are both currently psychology majors and your plan. I think both of you is to use psychology for decolonizing aims. So I’m curious about what brought you to an interest in psychology. Angela, can we start with you?
Angela: I think I have, like, my interest in psychology kinda stems in the same place that I think a lot of people’s does growing up kind of seeing people, whether it’s your friends or family with like mental health issues. And also kind of be your friend-groups like therapist-friend.
Jill: Therapist friend. I like that.
Angela: The therapist friend, yeah. For me, it was actually like quite an interest for me. I really did enjoy kind of helping people work through their drama, even like helping people kind of come to a conclusion and get some clarity. So when in high school and you did a little, job quiz, what kind of job you’re going to do. It. A lot of it had to do with psychology. And I was like, “Interesting. Maybe I should look into this.” And then I took my first psychology class in grade 11, and I absolutely fell in love with it. And I think in that way, I kind of lucked out in knowing what I wanted to do or the general idea of what I wanted to do really early on. So, yeah, I kind of dived right into psychology, started taking all these classes. Lots of people are like, “Oh, psychology is boring,” but I don’t know. It’s something that definitely you have to have a passion for it, and you like it. It really did spark an interest in me. So I kinda just went from there and now I’m like full like head on into, into the realm of psychology.
Jill: Nice. Yeah. So it sounds like pretty early on you’ve already doing some of the care work we sometimes associate with psychology, but in a less academic structured way. And so now you’ve gone to school to kind of build on this role that maybe you are already taking a bit?
Angela: Yeah, definitely, I think and now I can hone my skills.
Jill: Nice. And Amber, what brought you to an interest in psychology?
Amber: Well, I’ve always had a passion for people and I really, really like to poke into people’s brains,
Jill: Figure out how things work?
Amber: And observe behavior. Yeah, I find it really interesting. I just find people so intriguing, similar to a Angela was mentioning. Definitely growing up and my circles and seeing family members or friends that were maybe struggling with both mental health and societal struggles that we can now like really pinpoint, using psychology, you have words for that, we have understanding of that. But like, as you’re just watching it unfold, you’re curious about it. And you don’t really know how we can be curious and polite and treat it more. Although I’ll be honest, I actually thought I was going to have an anthropology degree when I started.
Jill: Oh, okay.
Amber: Yeah, and I mostly took psychology courses out of interest to support people, but also selfishness because I knew I wanted to be a mom one day. I thought I just put it together in my head. I’m like, “Oh, if I just I just know more about child development and psychology, I’ll be fine.” And now of course now I know all these things. I’m like, “Oh God. It’s so scary.” But I’m really happy to be here and I’m so happy that I got a psychology degree because like Angela was saying, I know, like people like sometimes really struggle and they’re like, “Oh, why did I pick this? I hate this.” And I couldn’t disagree more. I love it. There’s so much to learn. And it’s such a diverse fields. And I’m really into more like social understandings of people and how those interactions work. I’m really into social psychology.
Jill: Yeah, there are a couple of things there that I want to draw out. What I like about what you said. On the one hand, you talk about how people are struggling. But the struggling isn’t only internal and it’s not particularly helpful to frame it is just internal that there’s a social phenomenon as well to how people can end up struggling. And also your discussion of getting the language to name things can be really powerful, right? So we can name what’s going on, you can see it and you can say like, there’s something happening here, there’s a phenomenon or a problem happening here. But once you have the naming mechanism that can make a huge difference and really helping people. Both of those are really interesting, the social aspect and the ability to kind of name what’s happening to raise awareness about it.
Amber: Thanks, yeah, I found it really empowering, actually.
Jill: Nice. I also want to say as somebody who began as an anthro major and didn’t end up there. I think anthropology is actually kind of a cool place to start and hang out. And I really admire my colleagues that did end up there. But I also think it’s an interesting foundation even if you don’t end up there.
Amber: I completely agree. You learn so much. I gained a lot of appreciation and I really enjoyed just getting to learn about a field that we don’t really talk about in any like or like, secondary years, you know.
Jill: So in your chapter in the book, Gender, Sex and Tech, you both talk about how digital platforms and social media can be effectively mobilized to serve Indigenous activism. Can you speak a little bit more about what drew you to this interest in social media and digital platforms. And specifically the co-relation between them and Indigenous activism.
Angela: For me, I think, even, even back in like high school, you know, when movements like the Black Lives Matter movement started, you could see online how differently they were being framed compared to stuff that’s in the news.
Jill: And that’s mainstream media right?
Angela: Yeah, seeing how people were talking about it on mainstream media versus looking at things like Twitter and Instagram. And back then, even like Tumblr was really big on stuff like that. So seeing how differently it was being framed and how more like I feel like it was being discussed in a much more whole way. Like it was much more well-rounded in the discussion. It wasn’t so biased and one-sided. So seeing that and then watching how it has progressed, since then has been really interesting, kind of see like even just going, you can go on TikTok and all of a sudden there’s a, there’s a post having to do with decolonization. So I think for me it was when we first sat down and kind of chat about what we wanted to do, we didn’t really know. We’re like, “Oh, I don’t know. Like this is. . .” because it, it it, I feel like this topic is so broad, but it can also be so, so small and so you know, you could focus on one little thing. So I think as we started talking about it, I was like, “Oh no, this is a really, really great topic. Like there is so much to discuss.” So I think, yeah, I don’t know for me, it was a little bit of like seeing how it’s progressed, but also getting really interested when I thought about it more because I hadn’t necessarily thought about it from like a decolonial perspective. Like it was almost like I like going down a rabbit hole where it was like, oh my God. And then there’s this and there’s this. I was like, Oh, there’s so much to learn about this like, this was exciting. So it was like. . .
Jill: Those are the best research yeah.
Angela: Yeah. Where you’re likely going to especially because at the beginning you’re like, I don’t know how this is going to work. We don’t have that much time. And then all of a sudden I was like, No, this is great. So I think a lot of it was seeing it all firsthand, but then getting the excitement of learning a little bit more about it too.
Jill: So do you think there might be future research projects?
Amber: There is definitely enough time to go around for future research. Like there, we barely skim the surface. And I think that I noticed, I really enjoyed doing a chapter, but like the word count, I think we realized very quickly was out of scope for really the grandiosity of it All.
Jill: Yeah. So maybe you can circle around and do something more at a later date.
Amber: That would be fun.
Angela: That would be really cool.
Jill: I think there’s something to really interesting in this answer, this idea that there’s more holism or a more nuanced that’s possible through the social media discussions and representations of Indigenous activism. And I think this resonates with something that you talk about in the Chapter too, which is that mainstream narratives. So if we think about like the 11 o’clock news or newspapers or what have you, those, those kind of mainstream narratives. When they cover stories of Indigenous activism or Indigenous movements, they often have kind of one narrative, right? And it gets reproduced across a number of different mainstream news outlets. But the narrative, at least historically, has often been quite similar. And that just doesn’t happen on social media, right? Because you have different individuals telling their own contextual stories. And so you get kind of plurality, I guess, is what I might call it and, and a more richness and more holiest idea of what’s happening than mainstream news tends to offer is my impression. Is that correct?
Angela: Yeah, I would say so yeah, like I think even, even just doing more research, like doing the research on this topic, you can see how the mainstream media definitely has a frame for everything. But then if you hop on Twitter and you see videos from like the frontline, you’re like, “Huh? That’s not what it said in the news.” Yeah. And you can get it from people on every single side, which I think you can be much more informed on what sort of a stance you’re taking when you can get so many different perspectives in so many different, like real first-hand stories as opposed to turning on the TV and having somebody talk about it for 30 seconds.
Amber: One thing I kind of noticed, particularly iterations that are a little bit older than Angela myself. They, they kind of look down on using social media as a way to get your news outlet. And I do want to kind of touch on that. I think it’s important to realize that like, as Angela was mentioning, like you only get a perspective when you look into social media outlets of any sort of news topic. And so you have to take of course that truth with the perspective that it’s being offered. And I think it’s really important to add that same critical mindset to our news outlets and to our mainstream media. And I, I agree with Angela wholeheartedly. You’re just getting a more diverse appreciation for whatever topic you’re, you’re currently observing and listening to and honing into. And in regards to Indigenous activism, we can see historically and through social lenses and again through psychology like the limitations of mainstream media. And it’s really great to have those stories being reclaimed back to the people who had been silence and their mouth pieces have been, unfortunately in so many ways, but like their language has been stripped. And so it’s so nice to have that reclamation.
Jill: Yeah, yeah, I think that’s a really good point. Mainstream news often presents itself as though it’s like an objective view from nowhere, which is one tool in the silencing of alternate voices and alternate perspectives, and particularly in the silencing of Indigenous voices. This idea that like, oh no, no, like where presenting the objective facts of the matter. And as you just said, like mainstream media has a context and it’s not divorced from that context, and it’s not divorced from a particular perspective in a particular location. It just pretends to be.
Jill: So you draw on a few specific examples of indigenous movements throughout the course of your chapter. And now that we’ve kind of laid the background of how social media can be really beneficial here and how we can use it to kind of question mainstream “objective” I’m using air quotes for people who can’t see, which is all of our listeners “objective.” I was hoping we can give our listeners a few details on some of the movements you talk about. So the first movement you talk about is actually one that occurred before widespread use of social media. In fact, I don’t even think the word social media was really a thing. And this is the Oka crisis of the 1990s. So can you talk a bit about what happened, what was it about? And maybe what the lack of social media might mean in this context.
Amber: Yeah. So the Oka crisis, which is also known as like, the Kanehsatà:ke Resistance. It was a land dispute essentially that was over a piece of land that held deep, like it was on traditional land for Mohawk people for Haudenosaunee people and the Quebec City or some sort of land developer wanted to make it a golf course. And so it was framed through named media that this crisis of, “Oh my goodness, these people, they won’t get off the land. They won’t allow us to make this golf course like they’re causing a ruckus” and that’s, that was the first presented information. And then of course like the army got involved and then of course like they have army hurting young kids and women who are on the front line. These types of imagery we can see now, and I think would’ve been really useful had social media been present during this time, or at least more active of us being able to share and listen to all points of the event. But on a completely different spectrum, this is sacred burial ground that has always been since time immemorial, like these peoples. And it held great significance to them. And over a golf course like this, huge, I want to say, I think it was about like 80 days standoff, something like that between the government and the army and the Mohawk people. And I just, I really feel for them during that time because they got to show their strength and their, and their protection. But they were devastated over this loss.
Jill: And mainstream media did frame this not as a fight over sacred ground or as a resistance, but more like troublemakers and a crisis.
Amber: Yeah. And like blockades or put up that separate them from getting their groceries, from accessing medical services. It was, it was an awful attack, and it wasn’t trained that way at all.
Jill: So as we move into ages of social media being much more widely used, how can we see these movements of resistance change? So, can you talk a bit about the #IdleNoMore movement? What was this about? And what might be different since this movement really came to be in an age of social media.
Angela: Yeah, like the Idle No More movement. It started in, I believe, 2011. And it was basically, it was a response to a bill put out by the Canadian government, which basically would infringe on treaty rights. And particularly it was a big concern with like environmental concerns. So, and it, it, it was fronted by Indigenous women. It was three Indigenous women, as well as a non-Indigenous ally. But it was something that it impacted people all across Canada. And so because of the time that it was, you know, people were able to kind of get the word out and it really picked up on Twitter. And so people were able to use this hashtag to get all of this collective conversations. And it’s, it’s not done now, it’s still going on.
Angela: It’s one of those movements that it will stick around and that’s going to keep going because there’s always something going on. So it’s yeah, I would say more recent years it has kind of died off in social media use. But I think that’s because now things are being replaced by more local concerns. But at the time it was something that not only were you able to see that there were blockades and protests going on in person. You could, like, watching that on the news. You are able to now kind of hear all these different voices and be able to see that maybe, “oh, it’s not just what the news is showing me.” So this was this was kind of like the turning point where, whereas like with the Oka crisis, you were just seeing what was on the news and even then the news wasn’t in that, I mean, as, you know, as we discuss the news isn’t exactly unbiased. Even, even during this, there were non-Indigenous people who had a big problem with this development, but that wasn’t being discussed in the news. So now what see, you know, with the, with the start of the Idle No More movement, people could watch the news. And then if they were like, huh, this is interesting. You could go to Google and search Idle No More. And then it would pop up right there on Twitter with the hashtag. And you could click on it and you can see all these different voices discussing it. So it did kind of create this new sort of era that we’re in now where you can, you can hear these voices and you’re seeing it as it’s happening too.
Jill: Right. And I think that’s really interesting that you say even pre-social media. So with the Oka crisis, there were non-Indigenous potential allies that we’re not super comfortable or were upset with what was happening. But if mainstream media didn’t report on that, it’s possible people thought that they were in the minority or that they were misinformed, that maybe they didn’t know what was actually going on. And now it’s a lot easier for people who aren’t directly involved in these movements to find out what’s going on.
Jill: Right. And to find out directly from the contextual sources of like here’s what’s happening on the ground. I took out my phone and I took a picture or a video and posted it to Twitter or Instagram or whatever so that people can see, right?
Jill: So the last movements that you talk about are quite contemporary. And this is the missing and murdered indigenous women, girls and two spirit people and no more Stolen Sisters. Can you give some context here?
Amber: Yeah, this is an epidemic, that’s a social epidemic that really hasn’t received much attention, even though it’s been going on for generations. And it’s really great to see that modern tool, social media is really trying to put an end to it. Essentially, due to the issue of Indigenous women being traditionally viewed as, as lesser, and their body is also linked to land extraction, we’re seeing unfortunately, a lot of missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls and two spirit folks. These are, call it what you will, cracks in society, just people falling through or maybe perhaps hidden agenda, according to some, the fact of the matter is people are dying, loved ones are missing. And that’s why it’s hashtags like no more Stolen Sisters, the red dress projects, and #MMIW it’s trying to bring awareness to the concerns. I personally work on the downtown east side and, you know, people are missing frequently and to see the community come together, to say “have you seen her do you know where she is?” When like, you know, people are concerned, these are loved people. And for some reason, the mainstream media has just thought given this the attention that it really deserves and its a frustrating back and forth.
Jill: So just to clarify for listeners who may not know, the downtown east side, referring to Vancouver. Vancouver Downtown Eastside has a disproportionate number of unhoused people. And yeah, it’s another place where we see this, this epidemic. It’s not the only place we see the epidemic. It’s, it’s across Turtle Island, this missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls, and two-spirit people. But the downtown east side is one place where we see this happening, that people go missing and there, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of mainstream pickup of this in terms of news media and also in terms of like investigations. Yeah. So how do you think social media might be useful in these contexts?
Angela: It is already being used for the, especially with #MMIW when it, when it comes to movements where it’s stuff like protests and frontline action, you’re able to put your voice and then you’re able to, to like talk about stuff in a much more, I would say like free sort of way and you’re much I would say much safer to discuss stuff like that online as opposed to in person a lot of the times. But, you know, looking at it for like movements, like #MMIW, it is a way to get this knowledge out when the media, like mainstream media is actively ignoring it. And you know, like I think just looking at how many, how many different things have happened in the years that social media has been gaining more popularity. You think about women and girls who went missing or were murdered prior to social media. People didn’t know. The only way you would know is if you somehow were you were down like an especially thinking about all the stuff that happened on the downtown east side with women getting picked up, you wouldn’t know unless you ran into somebody who was looking for her. Whereas now you go on Facebook. People are sharing pictures. They’re talking about the movements. People are using even Tiktok to say, “hey, have you seen my aunt?” And especially if they’re not close by to where this person was last seen, they can say, “hey, anybody in this area sees this person, please let me know.” And I think it’s also interesting seeing how people are using social media to advocate for justice too. Whereas beforehand, I think the hard thing with the width like #MMIW is that a lot of times, like you said, there’s not much investigation into it. And before social media, people were just they didn’t even know. Like how would you know if you didn’t know if there was no discussion about it? But now with social media, they can say, “Hey, we know who is doing this, and the police are doing absolutely nothing.” And people are able to do things like write up like a pre-made email to send to government officials and say, “you need to do something about this.” So yeah, it’s, it’s I feel like social media has been able to play a huge role in a lot of these different movements and has put like public a huge advantage. So it sounds like part of the role is to take something that is invisible to a large group of people, so you know about it if it’s somebody in your community that’s gone missing or somebody or attached to you in some way, but you may not know if that’s not the case, if you’re contextually not in that space. But now that we have these social media tools, people who are connected directly can see that this is happening, right? That it’s out there now and, and it’s not hidden. People can see that this is happening. There is a definite trend that it is widespread, that these are not one-off incidence of somebody going missing, but that there’s a definite trend happening. And in a wider kind of mainstream societal way that was perhaps not visible or less possible prior to social media.
Jill: So one thing you said in talking about No More Stolen Sisters and Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls and Two-Spirit People is the way in which women and Indigenous women are stereotypes are characterized by mainstream media and mainstream settler colonial culture as being lesser value, as being tied to the land is another thing that you said. And I wondered if you wanted to unpack that a little bit.
Amber: I would love to. I know those are kind of big sweeping statementsI kinda threw them out there.
Jill: They’re fair statements, I think.
Amber: I would like to start with tied to the land when we’re talking like first settler colonialism, began it was really unfortunately the women who received the brunt of it. And we can see a lot historical accounts. If you’re interested, I would encourage you to look more like the truth behind Christopher Columbus and things like that. Because like it’s kind of a control talk about where he was, it was a young girls that were being basically prostitute it out to the men who just were on a ship for however many days to come here. And this was seen not just in the community that was affected with the Columbus voyage. This was another trend that was just kind of viewed throughout Turtle Island and an honestly globally is it’s a lot to unpack there is just basically trying to say that the way that female bodies were associated with also like ownership as well as land ownership. And I’d like to just take this one step further that this is, again, another sweeping statement pan-Indigeneity, so it’s not something that is true of all Indigenous cultures, but for many Indigenous cultures, women hold the role tied to the physical land of up-going seeds of harvesting plants, of supporting their communities through those roles. And so to just basically have the women removes, not be able to keep those traditions going, not able to keep their communities growing. And as we’ve also talked about in that chapter, lead their people and do so much for their people, it really completely toppled what had works for Indigenous peoples for thousands of years. And that unfortunately meant that land and people are easier to colonize.
Amber: And so this destruction that we see of the physical space is very much tied to people. And you can see this in a lot of areas that are being extracted like for example, Highway of Tears. It’s more remote area. There’s tons of man camps and things like that there.
Jill: Yeah. So this is another central northern British Columbia stretch of highway, were a number of indigenous women, girls, and Two-Spirit people have gone missing along that highway. And yeah, it’s it’s in an area that has a lot of work camps, a lot of man camps, oil extraction, that kind of thing. So I think we can see that even in the very first movements of this violent colonial entry into Turtle Island, that Indigenous women and girls were targeted. You give the example of Columbus. And that this is a way of, for some Indigenous communities, depending on the roles that women and girls held to destabilize the community, to destabilize the land. And that we see this again still happening, for example, on the highway of tears. These are projects on resource extraction from the land. And that this is still continually associated with missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls and Two-Spirit people who as you’ve said, in many Indigenous nations, hold quite high positions, right? So the European idea of having women as lesser than men historically and still arguably contemporary European idea of this was not an idea that was held by many, many Indigenous cultures, where instead, women were often perceived as equal to men or in some positions of power over men depending on situations and different nations. And with that, we see one tool of colonialism being this targeted sexual racism against Indigenous women and girls and Two-Spirit people.
Amber: Yeah, and just to jump back to your previous question, like, unfortunately, this really is shown in newspapers and mainstream media when we talk about when these women go missing, it’s often like there has been a lot of research that compares European women, white women, white presenting people who go missing or murdered, and how the media shares their story. And it’s vastly different when you compare Indigenous women, girls if their stories or even shared, which is a whole other point spent of silencing these, these dramatic and impactful things that are happening.
Jill: Yeah. So in speaking about Indigenous activism, both on and offline, in your chapter, you stress a couple of key concepts. One is decolonization and the other is the idea of Land Back movements. Can you speak a bit more about these concepts?
Angela: So decolonization is very big. Like, it, it may seem simple because it’s like, oh, decolonizing, you know. But it, in the context of whether it’s social media, even things like education, stuff like that. It is a big, big, big topic. It’s about both decolonizing and then going further and like Indigenizing things like spaces and topic. But basically to refuse the colonial lens that everything in our world is basically encapsulate in. And so taking that and saying no, pulling that out, breaking it down and looking at it from this lens that doesn’t follow the standard colonial view. And within, within these movements, it, it is decolonizing the space that people are using. I think you can, you can really see it when you look, I think at things like Instagram stories where you can see somebody who maybe isn’t, whether, whether they are Indigenous or not, but maybe they’re not following the sort of like decolonial perspective, especially when discussing movements. And then shifting over to somebody who does have that mindset where they’re coming at it from a more traditional lens. They’re wanting it to be, again, like kind of going off onto the topic of being holistic and more informed. And yeah, it is like a big, big topic to kind of unpack, I think because it can be discussed in so many different contexts. But I think yeah, within, within this sort of context, a lot of it is doing the work to get rid of this colonial lens that it takes all of the news. Working on, kind of breaking that down and and starting from the basics and building backup.
Jill: Yeah. And I think sounds like one of the first ways to try and break down the colonial lens is to be aware that there is a colonial lens.
Angela: Which not everybody is aware.
Jill: And arguably historically mainstream colonial media has gone out of its way to present itself as not having a bad, as being lensless and objective, right? And I think one of the other things you said is really important to note, which is that we can internalized oppression, right?
Angela: Yeah, yeah, definitely.
Amber: I just think, think one thing that’s kinda cool about activism that are related to Land Back movements specifically is that because the internet is global. We are not restricted to just using our community support in a physical space and time. You can look back and look forward and you can be with people across the globe to supports their land defense movements. And I think that’s really exciting. It’s also really cool to see it happening just on Turtle Island specifically like when the Wet’suwet’en, which is like a BCband that recently has been really struggling, well, they’ve always having conflicts, but essentially they’ve been really suffering from encroachments based on people wanting to extract resources on very important territories that have always been theirs and right to their aid, are Mohawk people like, they came there on the opposite side of Canada on the East Coast and they just came to the West. And they’re like, Yeah, we’re here to stand in solidarity because we have to act as a, as a community that stands together and protects each other. We can’t just allow colonial enforcers, let’s put it that way, to just pick on nations one by one, we have to stand together. And this is really where allyship is huge. And again, from a global perspective, you’re not limited by just what’s happening in your backyard or around you?
Jill: Yeah. Yeah. Even if you can’t physically travel, for example, to Wet’suwet’en territory. There were a lot of people, there were protests happening in other places in solidarity. Both Indigenous led and allies supported protests happening. And social media again, was another tool for mobilization. So for people who don’t have the mobility, they can still show up just in virtual space or in their own physical spaces to stage a demonstration and support, for example.
Jill: So I think we’ve seen a lot of advantages in this discussion of social media for Indigenous activism. But one thing, you’ll notice that there is a tension here. Social media platforms hold a lot of power. And you demonstrate this in your discussion, for example, of Instagram and the alleged shadow banning of content pertaining to the May 5th, 2021 National Day of Awareness for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls, and LGBTQ+ people. So can you talk us through a little bit of this events and perhaps also of the kind of power that social media platforms might have.
Angela: Yeah, So on May 5th, all day, if people were posting about missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls, and Two-Spirit people. And then the next morning they woke up and all of their posts are gone. Yeah, I wonder why. And even if they weren’t gone, the amount of people who had viewed it was way down from there selfies. So I think, yeah, like this is not an uncommon situation. It is very, very common for things like these posts to be shoved to the bottom of the page. The algorithm really does not like these movements. And I will point out, even when I was Googling this day earlier, it doesn’t show up.
Jill: Oh wow.
Angela: Yeah. If you Google. I was like, I searched, like May 5th, 2021, MMIW. Nothing about it. And there are news articles. There were multiple news articles on this, but if you Google it, I’m sure there is a way to get it to show up. But if you Google it, it doesn’t pop up. It’s not it’s not even like it’s not in the first five things that happen. So. . .
Jill: So it’s like you have to know what you’re looking for. Which is kind of the opposite of what we want here, we want social media to introduce people to things they don’t know they’re looking for.
Angela: And that is the big thing with shadow banning because you can get around shadow banning, like your viewers can get around shadow banning if they know that they’re looking. I’ve noticed, like for me I’ll be like, hey, I haven’t seen this person on Instagram in like a few weeks. They, they used to be like my number one, like story. I would view it every single day, would go straight to the front. And then I like I’ll think I want to be like, Oh, I haven’t seen them in a few weeks. Like have they gone off Instagram? No. No, no. They have stories. They have been they posted like five posts since the last time I saw it. But it’s just. . .
Jill: The algorithm decided you didn’t need to see that.
Angela: Yeah, I need to see selfies and people’s trips to Mexico during the middle of a pandemic, of course. Yeah. So it’s I think Instagram is a big one of this where like, you know, they have, it is a big, big, big problem. TikTok also has it where people will, they have to start it with something completely different. And then all of a sudden the video changes and it’s like, okay, so this is what I’m actually talking about.
Jill: Right? To get around the shadow banning.
Angela: Yeah. Yeah. And it’s, people are becoming are we’re starting to like learn a little bit about how to get around it. But there’s no there’s no foolproof method. The shadow banning is like when it comes to social media and using social media to our advantage. There are all of these advantages, but I think one of the biggest disadvantages is that even if we are personally decolonizing the space that we’re using, these are colonial sites. These are colonial out.
Angela: They are run by giant corporations headed by white men.
Angela: And these white men don’t want people to know. Like I, I think especially when it when we’re talking about like land back movements and stuff like that. Thanking of people like Jeff Bezos who heavily rely on resource extraction and land, taking land. They don’t want, they don’t want these posts to be seen by everybody. And the Canadian government certainly doesn’t want a lot of these things to be seen by everybody. So it, it is a very large obstacle, that is making this advantageous type of media, it’s making it almost, it’s, it’s trying to do what mainstream media has done. So yeah, it’s very conflicting because on one hand it’s like I can post whatever I want. Nobody can tell me that I can’t post a video at a protest. But does that mean that maybe only my 20 closest friends, are going to see it? And then. . .
Jill: And the algorithm’s going to downvote it for everybody else or it might magically disappear. By accident on purpose.
Angela: Maybe. Who knows?
Amber: Like, like as Angela kind of frame like it was, it was really vast. Think we noticed about a 100 allies and Indigenous social media creators were affected with this whole like May 5th block out essentially of the MMIW-pertaining content. And it was really cool though, to notice that this was quickly taken up. And I think that’s, yeah, really should be focusing on in this story like, yeah, it sucks that happened but we didn’t allow that. So just like that.
Jill: So what happened next?
Amber: What happened next is that a roar of basically publicity and making it out in the open of “Hey, what the heck do you have to say about this Instagram? Because we have about a 100ish accounts of this happening. What you have to say for yourself?” And near this time, there were still like the Palestinian conflict happening abroad and people jumped on that as well. They’re like No, it, yeah, I’ve actually been no sing that whenever I post about this and it just kinda became this whole big, I guess public awareness of, yes, your content is curated whether you like it or not, and you need to be aware of this. And I appreciated that, I guess Angela mentioned that this attracted national news and multiple news sites were like, Hey, this, this happened and Instagram to said it was a what was it? I think like just a glitch of some sort.
Jill: Right. I’m sure. A 100 account. Yeah.
Angela: Yeah. But not on your selfies.
Amber: Exactly right. And that was something that was really interesting. It’s like, well, we can tell you’re lying. Or that this glitch was just very mischievously, I dunno, programmed or something. And it’s just frustrating. But very cool. The community came together to support and to outcry and say, Hey, what the heck? And held accountability. I think that was really the biggest piece here, awareness and accountability. And of course, as Angela just mentioned though, that was then News. Now we don’t want to talk about that and we don’t wanna make that information easy for you to find. So it’s not really something that you can just Google search as easy anymore.
Jill: So it’s kind of happening again.
Jill: I want to quote something from your chapter because I found it really thought-provoking. So in your chapter you state, and I’m quoting “From TikTok, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, Indigenous women, femmes and gender diverse people are able to create content that is informative, uplifting, and funny. Many of these creators cover different topics that allow our Indigenous women, femmes, and gender diverse people to feel welcome, safe and related to, while also gaining important knowledge of what is going on in different communities.” And I really like this idea of creating content and creating space that’s informative, uplifting and funny, and welcoming. And I was wondering if you could speak to the importance of having these digital spaces to create this kind of informative, uplifting, funny, welcoming content. And what some of the advantages or benefits are of using digital space this way.
Amber: I think for like 500 years at least speaking like on our, our place here in Canada, like there’s been this narrative of who Indigenous people are, and in many accounts, it’s negative. And to see just this positive role modelling, this positive space-keeping, it’s huge. It’s. It’s indescribable to, to say, “Oh my gosh, there’s someone I hear I can look up to. There’s someone here who makes me feel like I’m seen and everything about me is completely fine and accepted and wonderfully happy to be here.” Like it’s, it’s a different meaning altogether. Like you were mentioning about the, about the oppression that many Indigenous peoples feel. It’s something that I think a lot of people who haven’t experienced that type of oppression don’t really realize that privilege piece in itself. And one of my favorite parts about that quote that you read is, is the funniness. Humor is something that, it’s a, it’s a wonderful tact, at least in my family. Like, humor allows us to really soften the blows and allows us to heal and recover in a way that makes sense to my community, to myself to us, it’s incredibly wonderful to see that come up on your feed and just brings a smile to my day and it makes me feel so good.
Jill: Yeah, and I, I really like your point about representation and an ownership or control over representation as well, so that these creators aren’t being represented by somebody else who’s dictating the terms. Like, they can represent themselves in a way that they feel comfortable and authentic with. And then people who are engaging with the content and engaging with these communities can see themselves celebrated. So other, if there’s an Indigenous creator representing themselves, for example, and then an Indigenous person can watch that and feel seen perhaps. And I think that’s really, that’s really powerful. Being able to see yourself in somebody else’s creative work is really powerful.
Angela: I think the funny to me is also one of the big, big things like, especially on TikTok, you can just scroll and then you’re like, oh, that was a funny joke. Like and you looked be the comments and everybody’s like, it’s the fact that it’s Indigenous people and non-Indigenous people will like being able to see that. Be like, Oh my God, I like this humor, like this is good humor her.
Jill: And that kinda gets to the creating of a community kind of thing as well. Or broadening communities, connecting across communities too.
Jill: So I think that’s a really powerful discussion of the benefits and advantages of these social media accounts and digital platforms. But you also talk in your chapter about there being some potential pitfalls or drawbacks, not specifically to the platform itself and shadow banning, we already talked about that, but what about regarding the kind of communities that are created on these platforms and the knowledge that’s shared, what are some potential risks there?
Angela: Yeah, I mean, there’s definitely a lot. I think one of the ones that we touch on with like cultural appropriation, I think is a big, a big, big one especially, I think with the growing interest in like beadwork,
Angela: That we kind of talk about. Like that is a big one because, you know, there are lots of creators who are making videos of showing people how to bead, which is often intended for other Indigenous people who may not have people in their life who can teach them how to bead. But it’s kind of, you know, it opens up the possibility of non-Indigenous people being able to profit off of that. And I think that’s, that’s one of the big things, is nobody saying non-Indigenous people can’t wear beaded earrings or they can’t bead. But when it’s being shown in a way, being a look at this like Indigenous bead work or, I think the big one is like the “Indigenous inspired beadwork” and then sold and profit off of. And basically like taking, taking this cultural knowledge and then using it for your advantage when it’s not a culture that you’re a part of. And I think that, that’s like a big one, but it’s not the only issue of cultural appropriation. Like I think even, even just going online and seeing people being like, “Oh me with my head dress” or people being able to take images of Indigenous women on social media and then tattoo that on their bodies.
Jill: Oh wow, I didn’t know.
Angela: Yeah, that’s like I think it’s definitely getting less because I think less tattoo artists are willing to do that.
Jill: Which is good.
Angela: Yeah, Like I’ve seen I’ve seen people talking about how they saw a tattoo artists had tattooed basically their, their face and then use some poor representation of a head dress. Yeah. And it’s it’s I would say quite jarring to know that that’s something that people can do because they can, you know, a year on my people can take your image,
Jill: Your images there.
Angela: Yeah. Yeah. So it’s actively appropriating cultural things or appropriating the images of cultures and the knowledge. And it’s hard because you want people to be able to discuss these things. If somebody wants to show, like talk about their cultural, what they’ve learned so that people who may be displaced can learn it. I think so many people benefit from that, but then it’s, it’s online. Anybody can see it most of the time. So, yeah, I think cultural appropriation is a big one.
Amber: Yeah, I couldn’t agree more, cultural appropriation is definitely an issue. And there’s all that fine line between appreciating cultural inspiration and, and benefiting off of the appropriation of it. Yeah, I think Angela spoke lots about that, but I also think racism and stereotypes are some of the huge drawbacks. We notice this like, from Indigenous and non-Indigenous accounts. If there’s an Indigenous topic that is spoken about, read the comment section and let me know what you think because you can see lots of harassments, racist, stereotypical language being used. And it’s, it’s highly disappointing and it’s frightening to know that those are opinions are out there. And I do think social media is a wonderful platform to use to share knowledge and share ideas, but that it’s a new tool, right? So, so we’re all learning how to use it and we’re all learning the etiquette of social media and things like that. And I’d say the same as for Indigenous communities like traditional knowledge sharing obviously did not occur on the spaces and so learning the boundaries of how to do that in still a way that upholds traditional knowledge, ideals and etiquette is, is challenging. Just because it often done through ceremony, is often done through tying to physical space of land and to circles of people. So definitely some drawbacks there of more the, for lack of a better word, the authenticity of the knowledge that you are receiving. And a lack of Elder inclusion is a huge one of this because like that’s where a lot of our knowledge and down is from those who carry and their sacred and we hold them high. And if you think of your grandma on social media.
Jill: Sorry, grandma, I don’t mean to laugh.
Amber: Actually, my grandma is so much better that on Facebook than me, like shout out grandma, you are killing it. But I, most people are not as talented as yeah, as, as one of my grandmother’s. And not as quick as learning and adapting to this new tool that we’re all learning how to use. And so that’s whole generation that you’re missing, very integral pieces from. And this is very much a youth oriented space. Youth and young adults. And those who can participate in these discussions are interested in it.
Jill: Right? And so if many of the knowledge holders are Elders, there tends to be less representation and sharing of that knowledge in these digital spaces.
Amber: Yes, I would say that even gets more refined the deeper you go. Like for example, to find the Two-Spirit Elder online like that is challenging. And I know that like from some of the online social media summits that they tried to hosts like it is challenging to find that representation even though you’re spanning across the space in the digital form.
Jill: Can you share with me some of your favorite Indigenous content creators and activists online like who do both of you personally follow and on what platform, and why do you follow them?
Amber: So I’ll be honest, I like to have diversification as much as possible, but I mean, it’s, it is challenging to find these people so I’m always interested to hear about more. And I’m glad you asked this question. I love this, this person called “Lisa Beading.” She’s a beater on Kwikwetlem territory, but she’s from Haisla Nation and she’s, which is a nation that’s located on British Columbia, Vancouver Island area. And she’s just there’s as much she can as someone who’s reclaiming her steps. And she’s funny. She’s got this cat named Prudence.
Jill: Oh I love that.
Angela: I love Prudence.
Amber: She’s so cute. I love it, love Prudence too. And like, like the beads that she comes up with a gorgeous and beautiful and like she’s just sharing what she can and holding space while she can. And like for example, she just like she’s very modern, like she just did it like an Edward Scissor Hands collection. And yeah, and like so like there’s things like that. For example, when it was Canada Day, just last Canada Day. She was also sharing like where she was, what she was doing and the awesomeness of the story that she shared about how there were people who were there celebrate Canada Day and the physical space she was. And there’s people who their celebrate Indigenous people and the number of people there were there to celebrate Indigenous solidarity, greatly outweighed those were there in their red and white celebrating Canada Day. It was cool to see and hear and from someone that is nearby.
Angela: I feel like I follow a lot of people. I don’t know. Like, I mean, I like ,like, TikTok and stuff. So I feel like I got a lot of the TikTok when there is Sherry McKay with she should be a staple in everybody’s follow because she, she discusses like, she discusses big topics, but then she also post these funny videos. And she posts videos with her kids. And I feel like her platform is very like wholesome, but also very like, like hard hitting at the same time.
Angela: Yeah, I think TikTok right now is like popping off with all these Indigenous creator, who are really like, really using this, this platform for like education. And I think we’ve, we’ve discussed her in the chapter Sheena Nova. Her videos, just like I think, not only is it great to get more representation for Northern communities, which I feel like even in the spaces that were already in like for Indigenous representation, there isn’t so much for Northern communities. I think a lot of times people kind of forget about them. So having, having a voice like hers there and then the throat singing that she does with her mom is like just like so sweet. But I think I think one of the things like what like with Amber talking about Lisa is, is the fact that she’s local. And I think that’s a really important one, is looking for people locally to follow. I think following these big names is great, but I find it much more fulfilling, following local people, seeing what’s going on. Because it’s interesting because it’s like not only do you get to see people posting videos, funny videos and jokes and all this stuff. But then it’s like you’re like this is like where I live too. So you get to know and learn about what’s going on, where you are. Which is really, I think, a very, very useful thing to be able to do.
Amber: If I could just add one thing. I’d love to say that Indigenous people are everywhere. So also like if you’re not, for example, like if you want support Indigenous people that you like, like I’m not really passionate about. . . I’m not passionate beating. I’m not passionate about necessarily like connecting with protests or, or things like that. If you’re interested in fashion or poetry or like politics, like they’re everywhere.
Jill: Film making.
Amber: So, like, like follow your passions to, but I would suggest like look out for these people and see if you can support them if that’s something that you’re already into in these sectors.
Jill: So I’m going to post links to the people that Amber and Angela follow if any of our listeners are interested. And yeah, I will just wholeheartedly endorse this call to find Indigenous peoples locally, if you can, who are interested in things that you’re interested in. Because as, as was said, they’re everywhere.
Jill: Amber and Angela, I want to thank you both so much for joining us today. Is there anything else you’d like to leave our listeners with regarding digital space and Indigenous activism?
Angela: I think the one thing but I will say is to not be afraid to engage with Indigenous media. I think a lot of people are scared to engage in media because they’re going to say the wrong thing. Or I think especially when people can’t make it out to protests and stuff like that, they, they feel like they’re not doing enough. But I think it’s, it’s important to just engage. You have so much to learn and even just giving a like and sharing the post. It does so much for these content creators and these movements because of stuff like that, that’s what, that’s what the algorithm likes. Unfortunately. But I think an even more so at the root of it, engaging with this media, it’s just, it is a perfect sort of place to learn and give support and be an ally. So I think, I think the big thing for me with all of this is don’t be afraid to engage with Indigenous media because it doesn’t pertain to you. Take that and use that to learn and, and, and be a better ally.
Amber: I love that. And just to add to that, I think it’s really important if you want to learn something more about Indigenous people or about Indigenous activism, social media is a wonderful tool, but also engaging with your community that’s around you about what you’ve learned. Taking these conversations from the digital to the physical. I think that’s really important. You do care about your people that you see and you, you interact with them obviously, as much as you can. Don’t be afraid to talk about these things if you’re interested in talking to them. I think it’s important to just utilize a digital space as much as possible, which we talked about today. But make that physical and make it a part of whatever is affecting you. Because honestly, these topics link in so many ways to so many different areas. We’ve only touched on it.
Jill: Yeah. I think you both for that message. I do you think people sometimes are too afraid of making mistakes or stepping on somebody’s toes. And we talked a little bit about internalizing colonial oppression. And we are living in a colonial context. And it’s quite likely that most of our listeners have internalized some aspects of colonialism. And that we might make mistakes as we engage. But mistakes are opportunities to learn. And I think that we have to be okay with making a mistake, recognizing this mistaking, correcting the mistake, and doing that work of unlearning this colonialist framework that many of us have been raised in, that we may not even be fully aware of the parameters of its existence.
Amber: Oh, yeah, that was well said.
Jill: This episode of Gender, Sex and Tech continued a conversation begun in Chapter 12 of the book Gender, Sex and Tech: An Intersectional Feminist Guide. The chapter is titled “Holding space for future matriarchs: digital platforms for researching solidarity,” and it was written by Amber Brown and Angela Knowles. I would like to thank Amber and Angela for joining me today for this vitally important conversation and for making space for all of us to practice the unlearning of harmful colonial narratives and ideas. And I want to thank you listener for joining me for another episode of Gender, Sex and Tech: Continuing the Conversation. If you want to continue the conversation further, please reach out on Twitter @tech_gender. Or you might consider creating your own material in your own voice. Music for this podcast was provided by Epidemic Sound. This episode is created by me, Jennifer Jill Fellows, with support from Douglas College in New Westminster BC and support from the Marc Sanders Foundation for Public Philosophy. Until Next time, everyone. Bye.