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Dalton Walker
Indian Country Today

Native TikToker Dyami Thomas has an immediate message for Native people: Download TikTok now.

Soon, users won’t be able to.

The U.S. Commerce Department said Friday it will ban the popular Chinese-owned app and WeChat from U.S. app stores on Sunday and will bar the apps from accessing essential internet services in the U.S. — a move that could effectively wreck the operation of both services across the country.

TikTok won’t face the most drastic sanctions until after the Nov. 3 election, but WeChat users could feel the effects as early as Sunday.

Many Indigenous people have found a niche on TikTok. The platform consists of short mobile videos and some users have followers in the hundreds of thousands.

Thomas (@dyamithomas) uses TikTok to share his perspective and the story of his ancestors. Thomas, Klamath and Ojibwe, is approaching 100,000 TikTok followers after downloading the app a few months ago. The 27-year-old actor, model and motivational speaker posts on the app often about Indigenous culture. Thomas has multiple social media channels but TikTok is his largest audience as some of his videos have more than a million views, he said.

“Any Indigenous youth that wants to get a message out there, now is the time to do it, utilize this platform to do so because anything we can use, such as YouTube, Instagram, Facebook, TikTok, all of it is good,” Thomas said. “Keep the good word going out there because Indigenous people of these lands have so much to say but so much goes unnoticed.”

The order to ban the two apps, which cited national security and data privacy concerns, follows weeks of dealmaking over the video-sharing service TikTok. President Donald Trump has pressured the app’s Chinese owner to sell TikTok’s U.S. operations to a domestic company to satisfy U.S. concerns over TikTok’s data collection and related issues.

TikTok expressed “disappointment” over the move and said it would continue to challenge President Donald Trump’s “unjust executive order.” The Commerce Department is enacting an order announced by President Donald Trump in August. TikTok sued to stop that ban.

Google and Apple, the owners of the major mobile app stores, did not immediately reply to questions asked by the Associated Press.

The TikTok news comes after the company recently hired Erin Tapahe, Diné, to produce videos as part of its Creative Learning Fund, an initiative launched in May. Tapahe, 24, has 28,000 followers. She’s a recent graduate from Brigham Young University in Utah. Some of her videos have been viewed upwards of 282,000 times

“I want to share the strength and successes of Native people; that’s my motto. So many people are unaware of Native culture and history,” Tapahe (@tapahe) told Indian Country Today.

(Related article: TikTok posts can help us heal)

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Thomas, who is based in Phoenix, is also part of Creative Learning Fund and said he’s received a couple hundred dollars recently for TikTok video views. He said he’s worried if TikTok goes away in the U.S., it would be lost money for some users, especially those struggling for work in the COVID-19 pandemic. He’s also worried that many Native youth depend on the app as an outlet.

“Honestly, this platform, TikTok, is where a lot of teens turn to for just that break in life,” Thomas said. “It’s one of their escapes definitely taken away from them at some level so that part really sucks.”

Cassandra Artichoker, 25 and Sicangu Lakota, said she was skeptical about TikTok until she found “Native TikTok” and realized it was “more than just a funny app.” She downloaded it at the start of the pandemic and her followers have grown to 35,400. She lives on the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota.

Artichoker (@wicahpitowin) posts about Native activism and Native humor. She posts once a week and might start posting more now that the app might stop working someday soon. It has given her a platform, she said.

“I never felt like I really had a voice, or I could make a difference educating people, or getting my story out there, but I feel like TikTok has helped me find my voice,” Artichoker said.

When she heard the news of TikTok being banned in the U.S. Artichoker said “it made me really sad, just personally because TikTok has kind of helped me in a way, but also for the other Native TikTokers, because I know a lot of people use it daily. It’s been helping them through the quarantine and being so isolated.”

Indigenous TikTok is a big deal, even beyond the U.S.

First Nations hoop dancer and performer James Jones (@notoriouscree) is among the most popular Indigenous creators. Jones, Cree, has 1.2 million followers and has the coveted blue verified check mark. His videos often have more than a 100,000 views and some in the millions.

Jones, 34, is based in Edmonton, Alberta and has toured with A Tribe Called Red and often competes in the hoop dance championships at the Heard Museum in Phoenix.

Although Canada appears not to be affected by the ban, Jones said it’s a sad day for people of color users in the U.S.

“The app has given so many POC users a voice to raise awareness about what’s happening in their communities,” Jones said. “And, Indigenous TikTok has such a strong community, we all inspire each other so much, I feel it would be a big loss for many of us who use our platforms to educate and show the beauty of our culture.”

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Dalton Walker, Red Lake Anishinaabe, is a national correspondent at Indian Country Today. Follow him on Twitter: @daltonwalker Walker is based in Phoenix and enjoys Arizona winters.

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The Associated Press contributed to this report