Cree woman uses TikTok to connect thousands with her culture
Michelle Chubb, 22, in Teen Vogue this week
Michelle Chubb dances in a jingle dress on top of a Winnipeg parkade, a throwback to her childhood powwows, but now, with her more than 300,000 TikTok fans, the video holds a lot of influence.
Teen Vogue this week profiled the 22-year-old Winnipeg woman for her advocacy, informative content, and willingness to combine her typical Cree culture with pop culture elements on the influential social media site.
"I just want to spread awareness for Indigenous people and their problems," said Chubb, a Bunibonibee Cree Nation resident, also known as Oxford Home, a village of about 3,000 people about 575 kilometers north of Winnipeg.
Chubb is frank about the bigotry and trauma she encounters in her TikTok videos, but still happily displays the impressive elements of her culture, such as her regalia, beaded jewelry and dancing, set to either traditional round dance, powwow music or top 40 hits.
Her mission is simple—inspiring teenagers and helping close the divide.
"We do need help and allies. Growing up it was really hard for me; I want to be that mentor for others who are lost on their path right now."
Her videos are stunning and reflect her faith, but Chubb experienced lots of difficulty and desolation that started early in Winnipeg.
"I went through a lot of racism with going to school … a lot of teachers thought … thought unlikely of me. Some of them not all," she said.
"Some would belittle me, some would underestimate my smart skills which was pretty sad."
Her grandfather, William McKay, was her rock, moving her family to Pimicikamak, about 500 km northwest of Winnipeg.
Her fondest memories are being there with relatives, attending rituals, eating traditional food and hearing stories, but it wasn't always easier, particularly with her peers.
"City natives are still driven away from the rez because we didn't grow up with them, she said with their history and traditional things.
"That kind of sucks too when you're like in the middle of racism and not being Native enough."
In spite of that, she credits her grandfather to help put her on the right path. In taking her and her siblings to powwows around Manitoba and educating them about the cultural and moral world, she said he was her mentor and savior.
"He was a look-up guy. He was a warrior," she confidently said.
Yet he died in 2008.
"Things kind of just sort of fell down from there."
Chubb said she quit dancing and 'lost' herself, claiming she 'maneuvered' her way across school without reason, made friends and discarded friends, and after high school began to misuse drugs and alcohol.
Around a year ago, in several years, her partner took her to her first sweat lodge, which she said helped give her a spiritual awakening and a "clean slate."
'I had to change stereotypes'
"So I didn't want to be heard. I just tried to shift the misconceptions that Natives normally see," she said.
She revisits what her grandfather and culture taught on TikTok, the social media site she entered a year ago after she found the app missing indigenous representation.
Both newspapers, friends and strangers' curiosity was surprising.
"It's frustrating. I'm not that man, I'm probably the shyest person you know. It's very fantastic, great answers, I like it......much help."
Chubb now aspires to become a model and continue to teach young indigenous people. She missed her grandfather or her Nimosum as she named him in Cree before her recovery, but she doesn't hesitate to ask what he'd say.
"I think he'd be proud," she said, drying tears.
"Growing up, I was always really underestimated."