June 19, 2023
Native content creators are using social media to build community and promote small businesses at Indigifest
Tribal Radio | By Crystal Ashike
Nicole Sam and Jeff Bryant joked about having a 'big festival' with a few Native influencers for Bryant's birthday on TikTok, but it quickly became a reality.
Soon people began to ask Sam if they needed vendors at their event and wanted to know about the 'big festival' taking place.
"We didn't think people were going to take us seriously. But the next thing, you know, we had an event," says Sam. She recalls over 1000 people showing up, including two food vendors and 15 vendors selling merchandise. "It was something that we were not prepared for, and - it still works, people still liked it, and they even came the second year," says Sam.
Over the weekend, the second annual Indigifest took place in New Mexico at the Narbona Pass picnic and camping area. And the festivities grew with bands, hip-hop performances, church entertainment, and a drag show—people from all over the Navajo Nation and all ages embraced the lively atmosphere.
Sam hopes the festival continues because she sees its impact on the youth and small Native-owned businesses. "We were happy - when we had the first Indigifest, there's a lot of people that got known, and now they're known for being one of the top merchandiser(s)," says Sam.
Sam and Bryant started using the social media platform TikTok during COVID. "I had nothing to do. I didn't have a job," says Sam, reluctant to start an account at first but rethought the idea when she saw @Jojojaxn TikTok video and decided to try it with the username @justrezzythat1.
Sam feels the first Indigifest boosted her following. "I only had 25,000 followers, now I have 161,000, so it grew - and Jeffrey's, I felt like everybody grew with it, you know, it really boosted us," says Sam, who is a Navajo Nation citizen.
Another Navajo TikTok influencer, Jeff Rogers Bryant sees Indigifest as a chance for Natives to support Natives. "This is only the beginning, too, so I'm really happy with the turnout that we had here," says Bryant, and hopes next year genre-free will be a two or three-day event.
"Me coming from the LGBTQ community, I'm diverse, and I believe in equality, so that's why we wanted different categories of different entertainers and performers to come today," says Bryant, who meets people every day through his TikTok account.
"To hear their stories on how I affected their lives positively" keeps Bryant going. "It just - makes me feel happy that I get to make other people feel happy," says Bryant.
The Indigfest allowed Tomahawk Martini to return to the community where she grew up. "I don't want them to offend me by making fun of something that I love and identify with, so I usually just keep my drag in Albuquerque or out of the reservation," says Martini, and when she comes home, she wears no makeup and is bald.
"So it's nice - for my family, and everyone sees me now for, like, being a drag, it's cool, and just everyone being so accepting - it's nice," says Martini and appreciates that she was able to bring her performance home.
As a first-time vendor at Indigifest, Kay Mariano owner of Desi's Designs, saw the festival last year passing by and thought it was a private event. "But this year, I found out that it was open to just about anybody and everybody, and I thought, hey, why not?" says Mariano.
At the last minute, Mariano took her beadwork and earrings and drove from the eastern Navajo agency to the Indigfest with a friend, where she saw her first drag show.
"I love it," says Mariano about the Indigifest, who took in the scenic location and thinks the event will get bigger.
"I see a lot of growth in this as a potential, and hopefully, I'll be more ready for next year with business cards and stickers. More merch, definitely more merch for what I do. And more product(s), more inventory," says Mariano.
For Sam, she cannot think of an event or festival in Navajo Nation that celebrates Native content creators and artists.
"I'm really happy that me and Jeffrey, just did it, we really didn't have a lot back then, we did the best that we could with what we had, and we made it happen."