TikTok’s Notorious Cree Is Here to Teach You a Thing or Two

FLARE spoke with the star of TikTok Canada's "It Starts on TikTok" campaign about his rise to fame

If you’re a patron of a little-known app called TikTok, then it’s inevitable that you’ve come across James Jones (AKA @notoriouscree), because the Indigenous Canadian content creator is pretty hard to miss. Since January of this year, Jones has built a large following on the social media video app for his educational and straight-up entertaining videos about Indigenous culture. Most often, the videos include Jones partaking in a popular TikTok trend—take, for instance, the “Blinding Lights” challenge—but with a twist.

@notoriouscreeTried this indigenous style. ##nativeamerican ##FashionEdit♬ #HotSeat – Mia Moore

Instead of the usual TikTok attire of sweatshirts, slides and athletic shorts, Jones is typically decked out in his traditional regalia; a mesmerizing swath of textures and colours that are impossible to take your eyes from. And when he’s not joining in on viral trends, the content creator is using the über popular app to educate his almost 2 million followers on Indigenous culture and customs, from how he stores his regalia to the reason that some people—like Jones himself—choose to wear their hair in braids.

@notoriouscreeBraid teachings ##hair ##indigenous ##nativetiktok ##braids ##hairstyle ##longhair ##nativepride @the_land♬ dear katara – L.Dre

In October, Jones joined TikTok Canada’s inaugural ad campaign, “It Starts on TikTok,” celebrating diversity, stories and trends that are born and celebrated on the viral app. FLARE chatted with the Edmonton-based star about his rise to fame, the tolls of educating people on social media, and whether or not there are limits to what he’ll share online. (Spoiler alert: There definitely are.)

His fame was kind of an accident

Like many now-famous content creators, Jones didn’t really log on to TikTok thinking that anything much would come of it. When he first created an account in January of this year, just before the beginning of the pandemic, the content creator and traditional hoop dance artist felt that at 34 years old, he might *actually* have been too old for the app. “I was kind of reluctant to get on TikTok for a while, because [the app] kind of had [the air of], ‘Oh, it’s for younger people,'” Jones tells FLARE. But, after seeing funny Indigenous humour videos on other social media sites, Jones was inspired to do the same on the burgeoning platform. “I like funny content and I think I’m kind of a funny guy,” he says with a laugh, “so I just wanted to make funny TikTok videos and use TikTok as my own comedy social platform.”

He started by posted a handful of comedic videos but, unfortunately, they didn’t do as well as he’d hoped. So, he tried another strategy—taking part in the “Blinding Lights” challenge in April; a viral dance to The Weeknd’s hit song.

“I filmed the challenge [after] seeing it everywhere,” Jones says. “It was so positive.” Initially, he filmed the video in his everyday street clothes; but something felt off. “I watched it and I was just about to post [the video],” he says, ” and I was like, ‘this is kind of boring, I should try this with my regalia.’ So I did it in my regalia. And then it just blew up and went viral.”

@notoriouscreeHad to try this with hoop ##native ##nativeamerican ##tigerking ##nativetiktok ##blindinglights ##blindinglightschallenge ##foryou ##foryoupage ##fyp ##dance♬ Blinding Lights – MACDADDYZ

The video, which has over 300,000 likes, put Jones on the map, and it encouraged him to create more content around his culture. Since then, he’s expanded his content, educating his ever-growing number of followers on Indigenous culture and traditions, from sharing Native American hoop dances to joking about what it’s like to meet his Indigenous partner’s father, as well as spreading awareness of important issues like the number of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls in Canada.

@notoriouscreesince this song is trending, I’m hoping it will bring more awareness to this issue. ##nativeamerican ##mmiw ##vibewithme ##foryoupage ##fyp♬ If The World Was Ending – JP Saxe ft. Julia Michaels

Jones’s real “pinch me” moment came a few months into his time on the popular app, when he hit 1 million followers, which to him still seems unreal. “When I passed the 1 million followers mark, it just really got me,” he says. “[I thought] ‘this is crazy that I’m now sharing my story with millions of people.'”

Now, working with TikTok Canada, Jones can only expect that number to grow. “It’s been so awesome,” he says of the collaboration on the campaign. “They’re so supportive and they’re just such a great team of really good people to work with; I feel like they really want all of their creators to succeed.”

But it can take a toll

While sharing his culture with his followers is important work, that doesn’t mean that it’s necessarily always easy for Jones. Educating masses of people can—and inevitably does—take its toll. While he wouldn’t say that the experience is overwhelming, in may ways he says he can feel beholden to only posting a certain type of content on his account, which draws him further away from the lighter comedy videos he’d started out posting. And while Jones still does throw in some of his original comedic videos to the mix when he wants to, it isn’t without some serious forethought. “Sometimes I just want to make a funny video or I want to make chill, regalia-free, non-educational content,” he says. “But then you think, ‘I should do something more in tune with my page and my personality.’

“The part that’s hard sometimes is that everybody expects you to educate them,” he continues, “so it’s a lot of responsibility.” And it can be especially taxing when you’re facing negative comments and hate online, a reality that many content creators, especially those who are BIPOC, know all too well when living their lives out online. Because, you know, the internet can be total trash a lot of the time.

“[There’s] lots of negative [comments],” Jones says. “I think honestly it just kind of comes with the territory.” He describes how he’s personally faced racism on his account, but acknowledges that it’s still outweighed by positivity. And while he 100% shouldn’t have to look on the bright side (because racist, hateful trolls should just be kicked off the internet for good, thanks!), he does. “You’re always going to have some bad, even when you’re posting positive content,” he continues. “I try to focus on the positive people; the people who come and say nice things and ask really good questions. I focus on them instead of focusing on the one or two negative troll accounts.”

There’s a limit to what Jones will share online

Positive thinking aside, Jones is protective when it comes to sharing his entire life—or his culture–with his followers. While the creator is all for spreading knowledge about particular dances and the meaning and beauty of his regalia, there are some areas of Indigenous culture he won’t broach. “I don’t share anything too personal,” he says. “I don’t share spiritual stuff,  I keep [that] to myself.”

This means Jones refrains from any videos about smudging and ceremonies. “I think that stuff should be kept private,” he continues. “I try to share things that are kind of known already a little bit, things that other Natives would know but maybe not everybody else.”

Ultimately, he just hopes his followers learn something

Jones says that he doesn’t necessarily create his content for one particular audience, and he has varying demographics that include both Indigenous and non-Indigenous people—he hopes that his account has something for everyone. For non-Indigenous followers, he says, “I just hope that they learn something and it inspires them to want to learn more and inspires them to go and support more creators.”

Because, unfortunately, the sad truth is that a large portion of settler Canadians *don’t* know much about Indigenous culture and people; whether it’s due to the lack of Indigenous history taught in Canadian schools or a purposeful naïveté. And if the recent movements in Nova Scotia and on Wet’suwet’en Territory have shown anything, it’s that Canada has a long way to go when it comes to our treatment of Indigenous people in our country. “People just don’t know a lot about Indigenous peoples here in Canada, even on their own territory,” Jones says. Despite the fact that his hometown of Edmonton is the pow wow capital of the world, “[a lot of people in Edmonton] have never seen a pow wow before.”

“And then I think just, you know, there hasn’t been a very big Native American presence on social media platforms for a very long time. So I think people are finally getting exposed. It’s a beautiful culture, my culture’s a beautiful culture. And people are just very engaged because they just generally don’t know anything. They’re like, ‘Whoa, I didn’t know this.’ You know what I mean?”

And as for Indigenous people that follow him, he says: “I just hope to inspire some of the people who might not have grown up around their culture. Maybe that inspired them to go learn more and be proud of who they are.”

Looking to the future, Jones says he’d like to explore the business side of TikTok and content creation, looking at additions like merchandise (100% would buy); but mainly, he just wants to keep doing what he’s doing. “Honestly, I just want to keep doing my thing. I just want to keep sharing, keep raising the bar, keep expressing myself online,” he says. “That’s a good way for me to express myself. It’s a good way for me to also learn as well. I just want to keep on the path I’m going and I feel like it’s a fun one to be on.”