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Indigenous creators have gone to social media during the pandemic to sell their wares. Photo: Lauren Badoni/Instagram

The plight of Indigenous creators banned on Instagram have so far, fallen on deaf ears

No reason has yet to be given from the social media giant on why the bans were passed down.

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The existence of social media platforms such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram and TikTok has created new ways for people to connect, learn, express themselves and even do business. 

These platforms have made a positive impact on the world of communication and commerce, but because they are a reflection of society, unconscious biases have made their way into the algorithms, and this often comes at the expense of women of color. 

Last June, the popular video app TikTok was under fire for the alleged suppression of content by Black creators, and its racist algorithm. LinkedIn has also been accused of censoring posts that contain anti-racism content. 

Most recently, Instagram is taking some heat as a group of Indigenous women artisans investigate why many Indigenous beadworkers’ accounts have either received warnings or been shut down completely, with no explanation. 

Due to the pandemic, Instagram has been a life-saver for many small business owners who can’t currently work at their normal jobs. 

For Indigenous women, selling their beadwork is a way to connect to and share their culture and make much-needed money. 

These inconvenient issues that Indigenous beadworkers are experiencing come at a time where consumers are interested in and prioritizing Black and Indigenous businesses, as a result of widespread conversations around racial justice. 

According to The New York Times, Indigenous beadwork is in high demand and collections have been selling out rapidly. 

The problems arose about a month after the account of Indigenous beader @ken_yew_knot went dark. Soon after, Kindred Post, a women of color-owned store in Juneau, Alaska was also taken down, and the page @harvestmoondesigns received several warnings. 

Not only are these accounts being shut down, but one business owner, Danica Freeborn’s page has been hacked twice last October. Freeborn said that Instagram has stopped responding to her requests for assistance, and the person who took over her account has sent off-color messages to others from the page. 

Mixed Cherokee and Mescalero Apache beader, who goes by @beadingismedicine on Instagram, has been blocked before she even got a chance to start. 

Ahyoka, who has withheld her name to protect her identity because she is a survivor of human trafficking, recently set up her small business to sell her work and raise awareness of missing and murdered Indigenous women.  

“I posted my first real post on my profile—just a picture of earrings from my new collection—no sale or anything, and now I’m blocked by Instagram,” she told VICE News

Maka Monture, a Lingít and Kanien’kehá:ka artist residing in Alaska, told VICE that the community has spent weeks attempting to get in contact with Instagram representatives, but so far, their efforts have been fruitless.

“I spent a weekend crying over this because the issue goes beyond an account,” Monture said. “It’s about contemporary digital erasure of Indigenous people.” 

Christy Namee Eriksen, the owner of Kindred Post feels that Instagram is sending a “harmful message” to Black, Indigenous and other women of color. 

“It’s suspicious when I see that multiple accounts that we are connected to — and that are BIPOC-women-led businesses — are being taken down,” she said. 

In a society where Indigenous history and culture is in a constant state of erasure, it’s difficult for these artisans not to feel that they are being racially or politically targeted by Instagram. 

Furthermore, there are plenty of brands on the app that are owned and operated by white people, selling “Native inspired” products, yet they are not being shut down. 

Social media platforms can and should do better. 

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