Indigenous culture on YouTube: 5 of the best channels

The average person can study just about anything on YouTube, but that doesn’t mean they’re getting accurate information from real experts. As a Native Professor of Indigenous and American Indian Studies, I would say this is especially true for YouTube content devoted to Indigenous culture and history. When looking for learning resources to share with my students to spark class discussions, I inevitably come across channels that have nothing to do with native socio-cultural issues.

Without giving these channels more credit than they deserve, I simply describe their content as annoying, irresponsible and reckless. Apparently, many YouTubers think that indigenous people are nothing more than secondary characters in a make-believe world of aliens, unexplained mysteries, and bizarre conspiracy theories. Or if the content is based on reality, Indigenous people are ignored in favor of non-Indigenous ‘authorities’.

It is alarming to see how much disinformation can be shared without any accountability – given that depicting Indigenous people in this way does not appear to violate YouTube’s Misleading Information Policy or are Guidance for the community – especially when our communities are already so often misunderstood. (Mashable asked YouTube for clarification on how its Misinformation Policy and Community Guidelines relate to content about Indigenous people, but got no response.)

Fortunately, there are channels run by real indigenous people, with credible connections to their community, who speak the language and know a lot about the traditions. You just have to know where to look. However, there are also more than 500 different tribal nations within the colonial borders of the United States, and I cannot cover them all. In fact, many of them may not even have a YouTube channel. That’s why I recommend the five YouTube accounts below as credible channels that provide people with a reliable starting point to learn more about Indigenous culture, philosophy and traditional beliefs.

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In 2017, Shane Brown filmed his father Wally Brown, a Navajo elder and historian, discussing their traditional interpretations of that year’s solar eclipse. Shane posted the video to his Facebook page; the next day it had gone viral, with hundreds of thousands of views. The father-and-son duo realized the importance of creating educational resources for younger Navajo people interested in learning about their culture. So Shane created the YouTube channel Navajo traditional teachings and uploaded their first video, “Wally talks about what the eclipse means to Navajo peopleToday, the channel has 184,000 subscribers.

The Browns believed their efforts could help recover from language and culture loss, the effects of so-called Indian boarding schools where Native children were forcibly assimilated into white American culture during the 19th and 20th centuries. They also hoped to correct the half-truths that had been shared over the years by non-Native anthropologists about the Navajo worldview. Wally Brown does this well when discussing Navajo perspectives corn pollen, Navajo sweat lodges, traditional Navajo weddingand the composition of the stars. In a video titled “Kokopellithe elder Brown corrects misconceptions about the popular Navajo figure who figures prominently in Navajo ceremonies. Kokopelli has become a misunderstood figure over the years, erroneously referred to as a “fertility god”, who is also exploited as a fashion logo for T-shirts, hoodies, jewelry and rugs Thank goodness Wally puts things right.

Explanatory videos such as “Kokopelli” and many others make Navajo Traditional Teachings one of the best and most reliable channels about Native culture.

Bring up “Indians” in a social gathering, and everyone will miraculously have a Cherokee grandma – but they “never learned” the culture. I say a good place to start learning is from the AsiaTV YouTube channel, which is part of the regional Emmy-winning website OsiyoTV Voice of the Cherokee People. Even if you don’t have a purported Cherokee princess in your bloodline, you can still enjoy short, well-crafted, documentary-style films that showcase authentic Cherokee history, people, and culture. Osiyo also means “hello” in Cherokee, so it’s not just a cool-sounding slogan!

OsiyoTV has a five-person production team led by Jennifer Loren, the director of the Cherokee Nation Film Office. She is also an enrolled Cherokee Nation citizen. Shows are funded through the tribe’s business office and each episode is well researched with historical documents and oral histories of culture bearers, which is just another way of saying old people who know a lot. In a 5 minute video that has been viewed 1.6 million times, Cherokee Bowmaker Richard Fields discusses how he learned to make traditional bows from his cousin. He says it’s important that Cherokee bows are made properly, and if he doesn’t share the knowledge, it will be lost, just like the “old words from the Cherokee language.” Speaking of language, if you feel the need to expand your second language skills, the Cherokee Nation also has a free language app, so you can say more than just “hello”.

All seven seasons of OsiyoTV are uploaded to their YouTube channel.

Not many people know that many tribal nations have their own accredited universities and colleges. Sinte Gleska University, founded in 1970, is one of them. To expand access to Lakota knowledge, SinteGleskaUtube was founded in 2008 as the official YouTube channel for the school. There are almost 300 videos, but a modest 12,500 subscribers. This means that people miss the teachings of Lakota philosophy and the film-recorded language of the late Albert White Hat Sr., a renowned leader of the Lakota community. While there are other notable Lakota on the channel, White Hat stands out, with nearly 40 years of experience teaching younger generations and authoring many books on reading and writing in the Lakota language.

You can see him in action as he discusses Lakota philosophy and the deeper meaning of Lakota words in “Teachings and Health Class / Lakota Creation StorySinte Gleska Tube is a valuable resource for those interested in learning more about the tribe that took part in the destruction of the 7th Cavalry and General Custer at the Battle of the Little Bighorn. I should also mention that “Saint Gleska” means “Spotted Tail “means” in Lakota, that refers to Chief spotted tailan important figure in the Plains Wars of the 19th Century. However, there is still a battle going on as the Lakota language, along with many other indigenous languages, is going on verge of extinction.

Hopefully SinteGleskaUtube can help in the fight against ignorance and misunderstanding.

Do I recommend another Lakota-based YouTube channel? Yes yes I am. The Lakota takes you outside of Sinte Gleska’s classroom and puts you right in a room with elders like Duane Hollow Horn Bear and Marie Randall. It’s almost like sitting in their living room as they pass on knowledge in segments called Essential Understandings. These teachings focus more on the Oceti Sakowin Oyatea combined community commonly referred to as the Lakota, Dakota, and Nakota. These names are roughly translated as “allies.” Topics covered include: the meaning of life, the importance of water, and even some legal discourse on the issues with US laws. You know, those nasty precedents that called for indigenous extermination and land theft.

Speaking of impostors, Hollow Horn Bear offers a good dose of stories about Iktomi the spider. In many videos he speaks both Lakota and English. In others, he speaks only in Lakota. “Wolakota” means balance and coming together, which is a predominant theme in many Turtle Island indigenous communities. Wo Lakota’s YouTube channel is part of the wider WoLakota project, which was created to help both native and non-native educators implement culturally responsive practices in schools. So if you’re an educator, just curious, or looking for balance, tune in.

An important part of the indigenous culture is our humor. So to round off the list, I want to include the YouTube channel Patrick is a Navajo, where Patrick Willie shares video responses to trending topics on social media. He is from – you guessed it – the Navajo tribe. Willie is also a hoop dancer. If you want to learn more about what that is and see Willie do the Hoop Dance, check it out this video. The main point of his channel is to “spread humor and good feelingsThe most popular videos come from a series called Natives React, in which Willie and friends share their reactions to memes and videos on various social media platforms.

Many of the videos are specific to Indigenous culture, and the channel can come across as a major inside joke to non-Indigenous viewers – frankly, it is. That’s arguably more reason to watch though, as it’s a great way to break the “stoic Indian” stereotype that has permeated the popular media. An unfiltered take on Indigenous humour, such as “Man speaks native language and Bear responds!” or “Why do Native American men have long hair?“, is just as important as content related to other aspects of Indigenous culture.

These channels are just a tiny fraction of the information out there but I think they’re a good starting point to navigate through content that claims to share cultural knowledge not to mention the racist dump that is the comment section of so many videos ostensibly about indigenous culture. . With this insight, you can become a more informed relative of Indigenous communities and help challenge misconceptions.

Or if you to be Native, you can watch and get inspired to further connect with your own culture.

Jimmy Lee Beason II is a member of the Osage Nation and a professor in the Department of Indigenous & American Indian Studies at Haskell Indian Nations University.

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