The “Native Spring”? Indigenous Communities Using Social Media in Fight for Social Justice

Indigenous New Media Symposium, 2014

Indigenous New Media Symposium, 2014

The Arab Spring captured the world’s attention in a well-documented wave of protests and social activism fueled by new media across the Middle East, but is there another “Spring” happening closer to home?

The Indigenous New Media Symposium hosted by the New School in NYC (February 21) is now online. You can check out how indigenous communities across North America are using new media platforms to connect, educate, advocate and refuel their fight for social justice.  So put down Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones and The Bachelor and watch the presentations and/or panel discussions right now — seriously.

The speakers pose a challenge and extend an invitation for all of us to consider whether we will be bystanders or allies. Will you look away and pretend that “Native American issues” are a relic of history and distant geographies, or will you watch, learn and listen to the call from these brilliant visionaries?

I hope the initiatives below to inspire you to action, whatever that may be (like them on Facebook, follow the feeds, fund them, show up at events, check out some bands and artists, reach out to any of these incredible speakers to feature their work in your blogs, orgs, conferences, etc.).


  • Adrienne Keene is working at the intersection of academia and activism to call out the politics of indigenous representation in her blog Native Appropriations .
  • Jessica Metcalf discussed how she went from writing her Phd to starting up Beyond Buckskin, an online boutique for Native American art, fashion and social participation.
  • Jarrett Martineau is a producer and hip hop artist researching indigenous resistances to colonialism “through Indigenous hip-hop, music, art, media and technology.” His Revolutions Per Minute music platform promotes Indigenous music culture.
  • Lawyer and activist Chase Iron Eyes spoke about his project Last Real Indians and how social media and crowdsourced funding mechanisms are being used to protect Native land.
  • Clayton Tomas Muller was delayed by bad weather, but he swooped in at the last minute to talk about Idle No More, one of the largest Indigenous mass movements in Canadian history.
  • Many gave a shout out to Matika Wilbur‘s Project 562, collecting photographic stories from citizens of every Tribe in the U.S., resulting in books, exhibitions and curricula. The Project 562 Kickstarter campaign raised over $200,000.

Usually I’m more than a little wary of starry-eyed social media devotees frothing at the mouth about how Facebook and Twitter and GoogleGlass are going to save us all. Many of these new media formats are deeply compromised by a glib(/nefarious?) lack of concern for privacy, consumer ethics and the deep value of living life off the social media grid every once in a while. That said, nothing has filled me with a renewed sense of wonder and excitement about the power of social media in organizing community quite like these Native American leaders and social activists who educated, entertained and lit up the packed auditorium at the New School symposium.

As these leaders remind us, all of our whizbang new media tools don’t magically make social change happen — that takes blood, sweat, tears, leadership, partnership, feet on the ground and ongoing organizing efforts. But new media is definitely providing new avenues for civic engagement and the quest for social justice, from Cairo to Colorado.

So, viva la revolucion — #Online & #IRL. #IdleNoMore #BeAnAllyNotABystander

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