Navajo Nation native Lance Tsosie didn’t expect to become a TikTok influencer. But when he began advocating for Native American rights on the social media platform under the username “modern_warrior_”around the beginning of the pandemic, the Denver-based influencer quickly amassed more than 2 million followers, boldly debating mostly white critics whom he calmly greets with his signature phrase: “Hey, Colonizer.”
“I originally downloaded the app to procrastinate while in the middle of my master’s program,” says Tsosie, who is currently studying at the University of Denver with an emphasis in diversity, equity, and inclusion for Native students. “I was following other Native content creators, and I noticed that there were parts of their arguments that weren’t being articulated so clearly. I felt there was a need for me to fill that gap.”
Growing up on the Navajo Nation reservation in Arizona, Tsosie developed a distinct perspective on American culture and institutions. At age 11, his mother relocated their family to Glenwood Springs in an effort to give her children better opportunities, namely in education. Currently, Tsosie is on track to graduate with a master’s degree in June 2022.
It’s Tsosie’s educational and straightforward approach to dismantling hateful stereotypes and criticizing racist ideology that quickly garnered both positive and negative attention when he began posting on the platform. So far this year, the hashtag #NativeTikTok, used by Tsosie and other advocates on the app, has earned more than 3.7 billion views.
“Institutions built by colonizers are still perpetuating issues like racism, sexism, homophobia, and transphobia today,” Tsosie says. “Our systems were built upon racism, and so by saying ‘colonizer,’ it pushes people to identify those things. I think that’s why it really irks people.”
While he finishes school, Tsosie will continue his side business selling “Modern Warrior” merchandise and donating a portion of the proceeds to non-profit organizations such as the Denver Indian Center and the Water Is Life’s Stop Line 3 campaign. (The latter intends to fight the construction of the Line 3 tar sands oil pipeline that began roadway destruction in June of this year.)`
Being one of only a few verified Native content creators on TikTok, Tsosie also plans to continue posting videos and deconstructing modern remnants of America’s harmful past in short videos for a growing audience. “If I get quiet, there is no one really with a large platform in this way to speak on colonization and racism,” Tsosie says. “So, I have to keep going.”