TikTok’s Tia Wood honours Indigenous culture at Come Toward the Fire

Performers include Saddle Lake Cree Nation/Coast Salish social media influencer and entertainer Tia Wood.

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ʔəm̓i ce:p xʷiwəl (Come Toward the Fire)

When: Sept. 16, 1-5 p.m. outdoor; evening concert, 6 p.m.
Where: Chan Centre for the Performing Arts, 6256 Crescent Rd., UBC
Tickets/info: Daytime: Free; Evening: from $30 at cometowardthefire.com.

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ʔəm̓i ce:p xʷiwəl or Come Toward the Fire returns for another year celebrating Indigenous creativity, community and culture. Presented by the Chan Centre for the Performing Arts and Musqueam, the event takes place in advance of the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.

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Supplied by Musqueam elder Larry Grant with thanks to Musqueam artist Miss Christie Lee Charles, the name for the event reflects the movement to bring back Indigenous voices to the fire, or beating heart, of the community after the experiences of generations forced to attend residential schools.

Featuring talents from Indigenous peoples across Turtle Island (North America), the event features an impressive lineup, including Oglala Lakota rapper/producer/composer and filmmaker Mato Wayuhi, who scored 2022’s War Pony and the streaming series Reservation Dogs, and 23-year-old Saddle Lake Cree Nation/Coast Salish social media influencer and entertainer Tia Wood.

From a family that includes many members of the Grammy-winning group Northern Cree, Wood exploded on TikTok, posting as tiamischihk during the pandemic. She describes her goal with the posts was to “make it Indigenous.”

“At the height of the pandemic, I noticed that a lot of Indigenous youth were on their phones a lot and heading to TikTok, and I started up an account at that time,” she said.

“There was this girl named Jayda who had posted herself singing traditionally over something called the banjo beat and I thought it was incredible. I took inspiration from a song by Inez Jasper called Fallen Soldier, which my sister Fawn Wood adds an Indigenous riff to, did two takes, posted them and left.”

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When she came back and checked how the post was received, she was floored by the nearly 200,000 likes and views. The post now has more than 20.8 million views.

“It was so crazy, and so random, but it was obvious that this was a great way to connect with culture and community at a time when we weren’t allowed to be together,” she said. “I just kept on posting about things that mattered to me and it kept growing.”

Modelling both traditional and contemporary fashions by Indigenous designers, performing traditional powwow songs and dances as well as pop song covers and speaking out on various topics, the now L.A.-based artist has an engaged audience of nearly three million. She has been profiled in Vogue, Elle Canada and elsewhere, and is presently working on her debut album. She has recently inked a deal with a major label to release the record.

“Pursuing music was inevitable, since I’ve been surrounded by it all my life, from family members to community drumming groups and so on,” said Wood. “My material is pop, but it will incorporate native elements and also feature family members who influenced me as well as the drum group I sing with. I’m so excited for it to come together and, hopefully, it’s something that people haven’t heard before that can move forward people’s appreciation and understanding of native music.”

Her mix of traditional and contemporary sounds will be featured in her performance at ʔəm̓i ce:p xʷiwəl or Come Toward the Fire. Backed by a guitarist, she plans on adding in a drum or rattle here and there.

She’s spent the past few months playing major festivals from London to Las Vegas, and even performed in New Delhi and Varanasi in August.

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“Touring to India which was such a beautiful thing to experience,” said Wood. “And it was also funny to be reminded about how many native people here still call ourselves Indians, because it’s so familiar. I had to catch myself a few times using the word to describe myself, going ‘Hey, I can’t say that anymore.’”

What Wood can, and does, say are things that matter to her people and beyond. Using digital means, her mix of hard-edged topics with humour and art is certainly reaching a global audience.

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