Tia Wood Is a Cree and Salish TikTok Creator Sharing the Beauty of Her Culture Online
Tia Wood is a singer and content creator based in B.C. who shines a light on her Indigenous culture on TikTok, using her platform to educate her followers about her peoples' history.
by : Camille Cardin-Goyer- Jun 23rd, 2021
Since joining TikTok a little over a year ago, Tia Wood (@tiamiscihk) has garnered an impressive following of over 2.1 million fans. Promoting her Cree and Salish cultures through traditional Indigenous songs (many of which she wrote herself), jingle dress dances, informational segments and by doing Indigenous takes on trending videos, Wood, often fully-dressed in her Native regalia, offers followers a better understanding of Cree and Salish traditions. We reached out to Wood to discuss how her intertwining backgrounds play into her everyday life and inspire the content she creates, the gorgeous and intricate Native regalia she wears, and of course, the start of her TikTok career.
Can you tell us about your background, where you grew up and how your Cree and Salish cultures have shaped you?
“I am my mother’s savage daughter! Just kidding…TikTok reference. But really, I am the product of two very beautiful cultures. My dad’s side is Cree and my mom’s side is Salish. On both sides, I am surrounded by music and dance. The pow wow lifestyle and culture has literally been the ‘drum’ that I’ve beat to since I was a little girl. Celebrating through Indigenous song and dance, and growing up on a reservation is all I know, which is why I’m grateful to have both Cree and Salish ancestry. There is a wealth of teachings from both sides, and the foods vary regionally which keeps my diet quite interesting.”
You sing in the Plains Cree language, often with other family members. What role did music and dance play in your home and community growing up?
“Music is everything in my family. My uncle is a prominent singer, my dad is a songwriter and singer, and my sister Fawn is a Cree recording artist. My mother is also a singer and dancer and was one of the first women to start an all-women’s drum group in Fraser Valley. This happened at a time when women weren’t culturally encouraged to drum and was mainly seen as an activity for men. So, I like to think I have that ‘girl power resistance’ blood flowing through me. Song and dance go hand-in-hand, especially with pow wow life. No matter where you turn, at any pow wow you’ll see jingle dancing, fancy style, drum circle, round dance, and of course, fry bread.”
How did TikTok first come into your life?
“I began by recording Indigenous songs on YouTube as a young teenager. It all naturally progressed as technology and large groups of youth moved through each platform. YouTube and Facebook were first, then came Instagram, and now it’s TikTok. Tomorrow it could be something else. I started watching hours of nonstop content on TikTok, and then noticed how people often replicated each other’s videos. It’s encouraged to use other people’s ‘sounds’ in your own way, so I just said ‘f*ck it’, I have my own way of creating these pieces of content, and just went for it.”
Tell us about your TikTok breakthrough video.
“This was actually terrifying for me. I had been covering pop songs and singing the songs of my ancestors and family for my whole childhood, but I had never combined the two in a recording. However, I’ve always played around with the idea of blurring the lines between pop, soul and R&B music while working my Indigenous fluttering vocal run style into that. Honestly, I was too afraid to do it for a while because I would think to myself, ‘what is my family and community going to think?, Are they going to think I’m butchering these ancestral songs?, Are non-Indigenous people going to care?, Are some of the unfortunate toxic crevices of the internet going to tear the blend of music down as not Indigenous enough? Eventually, I just said, ‘well, I like this, so I’m going to post it.’ I was pretty blown away by the response I received from the community.”
What was your intention when you started using the app more seriously? Has this initial goal evolved at all?
“My initial goal was to have fun with it, and I wanted to see where it could take me. I’ve never internalized an identity as an influencer but I think that other people want to put that title on me because it’s the box they think that I fit into. I am a singer. When I am singing and dancing, I am the happiest. You know, basically pow wow life! I’m lucky that the doors have cracked open for me through social media, but I won’t lie, it’s tough to shake the influencer game. It sucks you in and makes you work for it, as opposed to having it be a tool at my disposal. Especially with this Indigenous social media wave going on, there’s often this feeling of having to ‘keep up with the joneses’ but ‘make it Indigenous’ style. The deeper I get into the underbelly of it all, the more I feel like I want out, at least in terms of having it feel like it’s consuming my identity instead of it being a fun outlet to express creativity. Don’t get me wrong, I’m grateful for the platform and how the algorithm has worked in my favour, but I’m so much more than this, and I can’t wait to show the world what I can do as a recording artist.”
Did you ever think for a second that your content would resonate as much with those outside of the Salish and Cree communities?
“NEVER! I think in the wake of what happened in the U.S., with the Black Lives Matter movement, there was a very tangible awakening. And in Canada, that was felt with how folks are perceiving us as Indigenous people. It’s a perfect storm and lil ol’ me just happens to be putting out music and content in the middle of it. Not to say that I’m specifically at the epicentre, but I think that if I was doing this three to four years ago, who’s to say I’d have this ‘success’. Also, there’s this sense as an Indigenous person who knows better than to trust the performative social ‘systems’. I try to never be blind to that. However, if my Indigenous peers and I are visible and are being rewarded with the algorithm, then let’s let it RIP! Let’s break the foundation, let’s let these folks know that Indigenous youth are here, and are here to stay.”
Tell us about your creation process when making a TikTok video?
“A lot of it is collaborative in the sense that I’ll see another Indigenous creator make something, and I’ll create my own spin on it. Alternatively, I’ll have a moment where I am inspired to provide education about Indigenous culture that I know will resonate with my audience, so I’ll create a TikTok video on that. There are so many issues that affect Indigenous people and are ongoing issues such as, MMIW (Missing and Murdered Indigenous Womxn) which is something I feel very connected to and want to remain outspoken about.”
Your collection of jingle dresses, ribbon skirts, and other traditional wear is amazing. You must be getting a ton of questions about your Native regalia. What do people want to learn more about?
“For the most part, people are very polite in addressing my regalia, wanting to know what each piece is called and what it’s used for. I love when folks are genuinely curious about my culture. However, I think it’s common for many generations of Indigenous Gen Z folks to ask their mom or dad what some of the pieces mean, but I’m not embarrassed about that. People often think that because I’m Indigenous I have scrolls of history that I study or that the information is passed down to me at an open fire ceremony. Those are beautiful ideas, but that’s definitely how people like to romanticize Indigeneity. I like pasta, I like ice cream, I like normal things that any 21 year old would. I don’t go to sleep in my regalia, I go to sleep in sweats and an oversized T-shirt.”
How do you decolonize fashion in your everyday life?
“I wear what I like! My regalia is precious cargo, but I also like to shop at the dollar store. I tuck my socks into my sweats, just because I like to. If you want to call that resistance against high-fashion colonialism, then go for it. Honestly, you have to direct this question to the amazing Indigenous womxn who I consider my pan-Indigenous Aunties. J.Okuma, Lauren Goodday, B.Yellowtail, Orenda Tribe. These are Indigenous, women-owned brands that are making a difference. Also, the incredible artist Jeffrey Gibson creates beautiful pieces. I dream of walking on stages adorned head to toe in something Jeffrey makes. Next Level!”
How has the conversation around Indigenous people’s history and traditions evolved since you started using the app?
“More Indigenous folks than ever before have public, wide-reaching platforms and non-Indigenous people seem to be listening, whether they genuinely want to or not. The conversation is upon us and folks are shining and showing out. It’s beautiful to see and it is such an honour to be part of it. I think the outside world was largely not even thinking of us. As a people and as original caretakers of this land, we have been resilient, we’ve overcome so much and still are. But I’m not here to launch into the trauma and genocide. I’m moving with ‘love’ and will continue moving with my ancestors and community with joy, and in the spirit of pow wow as a form of pan-Indigenous celebration. No one can take that from me. We have to showcase our people’s vast well of earthly knowledge, skill sets, stories, and talents abound, and get rid of that old, sad, and stoic Indigenous image that the dominant culture loves to see. My message right now is to celebrate and honour my culture through joy and love. My happiness is my form of resistance.”
You did a very touching video where you opened up about past issues and going through difficult times. What motivated you to do this?
“That post was a way to demonstrate that I am a real living human being behind a phone screen, and I have mental health days that are tough, and trauma that I’m working through just like the rest of us. That was actually Incredibly difficult to address. Oftentimes I get swallowed up by the comments when I post. Even though most are overwhelmingly positive, there are also those negative comments that just feel like ‘death by a thousand cuts’, especially when it comes from other Indigenous people. I have made plenty of mistakes already within the short amount of time I’ve been here, I’m only 21! That’s no excuse for bad behaviour, but that’s the problem with public visibility. On one hand, it’s great to hold folks accountable, but when there’s no room to make mistakes and correct yourself, it leaves me in a place where I feel super empty and vulnerable. I’m not looking for a guilt trip, but I just didn’t know how to deal with how I was feeling at that moment, and vulnerability felt right for me at that time.”
You must feel like TikTok is a safe space. How did your TikTok community respond to your content?
“While social media platforms are a great place for social engagement and for spreading awareness, I do hope that folks can look at these tools critically as well. None of these apps can be separated from any of the shortcomings that involve human beings and our natural ‘perfectly imperfect’ behaviours. On a more uplifting note, I have an overwhelmingly positive community of folks and I’m so grateful. It’s weird how the social lines are blurred. I have followers who respond to my content as if they know me personally, which I understand because I too fangirl over people and feel as if I know their whole life. Social media is a TRIP!”
2.1 M people follow you on the app. What does that tell you in terms of the content you create and the messages that you share?
“Honestly, even with my growing audience, I still refer to myself as ‘lil ol me’. The number is just too perplexing and it’ll get me thinking all sorts of thoughts in my head if I think about it too much. I won’t lie, sometimes I get caught up in it and I feel like I have to ‘perform’ or make content that aligns with the content that people have liked before. But what I always have to come back to is that I am here, in this interview right now because I’ve kept true to myself. I find ways that reflect my presence in each moment and where my headspace is at, at any given time. I have to trust that the rest will take care of itself. I do think it’s unhealthy to get caught up in the numbers game of social media, even though I find myself doing it. I have to start practising what I preach.”
You must be getting a lot of positive feedback and praise from your followers. What’s the most touching thing you’ve heard from a fan?
“It never ceases to amaze me what people are capable of feeling and saying from the content that I’ve posted. Some folks connect to it in ways that sometimes I may not have even intended, but I love that it’s open to interpretation. If it helps somebody through their day or a tough situation, that’s more than I could ever ask for. Sometimes when I open up the app, it’s daunting and I feel like thousands of people are looking for me or asking me for time and attention, so I try to break it down into human by human. If I can just hone in and focus on what one person is saying to me per day, and connect with them in a way where we both feel like we got something from the exchange, then I’ve positively utilized this platform that day.”
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