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Kalle Benallie
ICT

TikTok creator Kara Smith said she plans on celebrating National Native American Heritage Month by doing what she’s been doing for two years — sharing the stories that were passed down to her and working on preserving that knowledge on her platform.

And especially having Afro-Indigenous people celebrate and take up space due to them being historically viewed as not Indigenous enough or less than.

“At times growing up I know I felt that and had voiced at school, ‘oh, I’m also Native American,’ because my mom always made sure to tell me my complete heritage, and oftentimes that would be denied or somebody would say ‘oh, no you’re not’ and invalidate what I had known,” the Chappaquiddick Wampanoag citizen said.

Smith, 28, known as @kararoselles on TikTok has garnered 116,000 followers and 3.5 million likes on her account. Her videos range from lifestyle, beauty and sharing her perspective as an Afro-Indigenous woman and a Wampanoag citizen.

She began her TikTok journey by creating an account in 2020 and only starting to make videos at the end of the year.

“There were a culmination of things happening, but I had moved back and home and I had the end of a relationship, and had just been wanting to put my energy into something new and decided that sharing knowledge, that I was learning from my mom about our tribe, it could be a cool place to do that,” she said.

Her mom, Alma Gordon, was the tribal historian and Sonksq, woman chief, of the Chappaquiddick Wampanoag Tribe and was supportive of Smith’s creator role. She died at the end of September.

“I’ve been at her house and going through a lot of things and even more so combing things through. I’m just really taking the time to be grateful for what work she had done and then taking the time to make sure I can continue that work,” she said.

The Chappaquiddick Wampanoag Tribe has shared several of Smith’s videos on their Instagram page where she educates and brings awareness of their tribe.

In early 2021 she proposed to tribal citizens to create a fundraising committee to raise money for tribal operations, cultural preservation and the tribe’s land back initiatives for Chappaquiddick Island, where their historic land is. She explained to them how TikTok could be instrumental in helping and they have since raised nearly $70,000. 

“People that were elders in the tribe were a little bit more hesitant because it’s such a new way of doing things. But they were pleasantly surprised and really appreciative of our understanding of marketing in this year of 2020,” she said.

The Chappaquiddick Wampanoag Tribe’s ancestral homelands that are located southeast of Massachusetts include: Chappaquiddick Island, Cape Poge and Muskeget, according to their website. They are not a federal or state recognized tribe but have a long-standing history, especially land claims, with the United States since the 18th century.

Today some citizens reside on Martha’s Vineyard, Rhode Island and Massachusetts.

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One of Smith’s viral TikTok videos even helped propel an idea to write a children’s book. She stitched a video in July with someone who made a video at Martha’s Vineyard Airport saying they didn’t know the island had locals.

“I kind of tried to politely say that it has locals and it has a Native population and kind of did a video talking about us and talking about our tribe. It got over 2 million views and a woman from Penguin [Publishing Group] reached out and asked if I would be interested in doing that because I’ve done writing in the past,” she said. 

And she’s writing another book that will be nonfiction about the history and connection of Martha’s Vineyard and the Chappaquiddick Wampanoag. She said it’s exciting to write a book about the Wampanoag people by a Wampanoag author and an Afro-Indigenous woman.

Both books are expected to be released sometime next year.

Also through TikTok, Smith was able to connect with other Afro-Indigenous and Indigenous creators like @wapahkesis or Keisha (Cree/ Lac La Ronge Indian Band) and Sisa Quispe, @sisa_quispe (Indigenous Quechua-Aymara).

“Our initial bonding was over the general life-happenings of 20, 30 year olds and relationships but since then we have continued to bond over the fact that we are kind of ‘other’ in the Indigenous community in a way,” she said.

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The social media platform has been instrumental for her to see more people from the Afro-Indigenous community outside of her own. She said although there is still work that needs to be done, she has seen a change and a strength in the Afro-Indigenous community from the relationships they’ve built online.

Smith said TikTok allows people to watch another person communicate in a FaceTime-like setting that really engages viewers about information like heritage and history.

“I found it actually too at the beginning to be a bit of a challenge because I wasn’t as comfortable on camera. So I was kind of too bold and wanted to overcome this fear of recording videos,” she said.

One thing she’s learned since creating her account was to not share everything about her culture.

“I was doing some sharing of language as I was learning it but kind of have since stepped back from that and protected it a bit more, just for respect for the Wampanoag Nation, and because I am also still in that reconnecting process,” she said.

Her advice to other aspiring Indigenous content creators or those who want to share their culture is to make videos that they want to see themselves, make notes or a script and use others as an inspiration but remain true to yourself. 

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