June is National Indigenous History Month, a time to celebrate the culture and contributions of Canada’s First Nations, Inuit, and Métis people. Often, the creators in these communities who make up this rich history are overshadowed by their colonial counterparts.
This year, we are spotlighting influencers and activists of Indigenous heritage who are carving their own paths.
Whether they work in activism or art, these trailblazers are breaking boundaries for Indigenous people across the country. From the powerful artwork of Christi Belcourt to the fierce and contagious music of Tanya Tagaq, here's a list of rising Indigenous activists and artists you should be following now.
1. Tanya Tagaq
A Canadian throat singer and composer, Tanya Tagaq is known for her powerful vocals that have been compared to Björk and Janis Joplin. Since her breakout debut with 2009’s Animism, the Inuk musician has toured globally and even collaborated with heavy-hitters like The Kronos Quartet.
Tagaq’s art is based around Indigenous issues and identity, combining traditional throat singing techniques with experimental electronic music. Never afraid to speak her mind, Tagaq uses her voice to fight for the rights of Indigenous people in Canada, often using her social media channels as a platform for activism.
2. Notorious Cree
A traditional hoop dance artist from the Tallcree Nation, Notorious Cree (James Jones) channels the power of social media to elevate Indigenous voices.
The 34-year-old, whose performances are inspired by a blend of hip-hop and traditional Cree culture, has amassed millions of followers.
Among his viral hits are his version of "Blinding Lights" from Canadian artist The Weeknd, which he posted on TikTok in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. Jones has also garnered international attention for his creative and vibrant content, with recent performances at Coachella and the Sydney Opera House.
3. Autumn Peltier
Autumn Peltier was only 8 years old when she delivered her first speech for access to clean drinking water in Indigenous reserves across Canada. Since then, the teen from Wikwemikong First Nation has become a global advocate for the cause, carrying this message to the United Nations' Water Day Conference in 2018.
Peltier's world-leading activism has earned her several accolades. Most recently, she was named the Chief Water Commissioner by the Anishinabek Nation after being nominated for an International Children's Peace Prize three years in a row.
4. Shina Novalinga
Inuk throat singer Shina Novalinga became a TikTok sensation when she posted a video of herself singing a traditional Inuit song with her mother, Caroline, in March 2020. Since then, her account has amassed more than 2 million followers, fostering a space for Inuit culture and traditions to flourish on the platform.
The 22-year old Montreal-based student has since continued to share her original work with unique twists to viral sounds on TikTok while collaborating with other Indigenous creators.
5. Shayla Oulette Stonechild
Wellness and yoga culture has seen a huge spike in recent years, but as a First Nations woman, Shayla Stonechild brings a unique perspective to the subject.
Now based in Vancouver, the Plains Cree yoga instructor has been actively carving a space for Indigenous women and women of colour in the wellness world.
The founder of the Matriarch Movement, a non-profit organization that works to empower women of colour through workshops, Stonechild has earned international recognition as one of the top 20 Yoga Instructors of Colour to Watch. She also hosts a podcast of the same name, where she continuously explores topics at the intersection of medicine, spirituality, and trauma-informed healing.
6. Ta'Kaiya Blaney
Environmental destruction is a hot-button issue in British Columbia. Pollution disproportionately affected Indigenous communities, with the Tla’amin First Nation — home to Ta'Kaiya Blaney — being one of the hardest hit. Blaney has become a champion for the cause and is a fierce critic of what she sees as the exploitation of her community's resources.
The teen activist has taken a stand against the destruction of her people's land, taking part in the Paris climate conference, Idle No More, and Occupy Wall Street. She has also been active in classrooms across the country, educating Canadian youth about the climate crisis and environmental exploitation.
7. Larissa Crawford
A published researcher, artist, and seasoned climate change activist of Métis and Jamaican ancestry, Crawford is the founder of Future Ancestors Services, an "Indigenous and Black-owned, youth-led professional services social enterprise that advances climate justice and equity with lenses of anti-racism and ancestral accountability."
Recognized by the Government of Canada as one of the top 10 influencers to watch in 2020, Crawford's work is grounded in the idea of Indigenous sovereignty and ancestral legacies, which can inform our future actions.
Addressing systemic barriers to climate justice, her organization has mobilized more than $39,000 for community-led and decolonization-focused initiatives. She also took part in the 2018 G7 Summit and in numerous panels across the globe, where she challenged the status quo of climate action and advocacy.
8. Christi Belcourt
Art and activism are often explored in tandem, but Christi Belcourt's unique perspective transcends both. A Métis visual artist from Alberta, Belcourt is not afraid to examine the darker parts of Canadian history, focusing on the experiences of Indigenous people and exploring topics such as biodiversity, the environment, and more.
Belcourt's work is inspired by Canadian colonial history and stories of flight, violence, survival, and healing. She works across multiple mediums, including clay, copper, wool trade cloth, and other materials.
In 2011, she created a stained glass piece titled “Giniigaaniimenaaning” in honour of residential school survivors' strength and resilience.
A year later, she unveiled "Walking With Our Sisters," a commemorative project that stands as a visual testament of missing and murdered Indigenous women in Canada. The exhibition, which featured more than 1,800 pairs of mocassin vamps, was displayed in Canada and the US from 2012 to 2019.
9. Sage Paul
Fashion is an important form of self-expression, but Sage Paul is helping to elevate the role of traditional Indigenous clothing in the public eye.
An advocate for cultural and creative self-identity, Paul has become a well-known designer and leader of a growing Indigenous fashion movement.
The urbanDenesuliné tskwe artist is a founding member and artistic director at Indigenous Fashion Week Toronto and has delivered talks on Indigenous fashion in the UK, South Africa, and more. Her designs seek to diversify the fashion world, highlighting the intergenerational narrative of clothing — and creating a space where Indigenous craftmanship can thrive in the process.
10. Nanook Gordon
When the COVID-19 pandemic first hit, numerous community-based initiatives flourished across Canada to combat its consequences.
Among those were Toronto Indigenous Harm Reduction (TIHR), a queer and Two-Spirit Indigenous grassroots collective co-founded by Nanook Gordon, an Inuvialuk community organizer, silk screener, and designer.
Focused on providing harm reduction services in the city, the collective has never shied away from issues of racism, patriarchy, and colonization — and its commitment to members of the LGBTQ+ community. With the help of volunteers, Gordon, who identifies as non-binary, has offered services that include health support and COVID-19 testing, personal protective equipment (PPE), harm reduction supplies, traditional medicines, and food to vulnerable communities across the city.
And as if that wasn't enough, Gordon is now looking to open an Indigenous Art Studio and Gallery in support of the Indigenous creative arts community of Toronto.