Patuk Glenn started making TikTok videos to entertain herself during the COVID-19 hunker down in March.
She would have been happy if just her friends or other Indigenous creators followed her back, she said. But to her surprise, Glenn has gained over 94,000 followers in the last few months with some of her videos getting over 2 million views.
“It really just happened overnight is what it felt like,” she said. “I’ve woken up to 50,000 followers (thinking), ‘What the heck is going on?’”
Originally from Utqiaġvik, Glenn moved to Southcentral Alaska five years ago and now lives in Eagle River. But she still makes regular trips to the North Slope to visit family and for her work as the executive director of the Arctic Slope Community Foundation.
Glenn has gotten viral attention for her videos depicting Iñupiaq culture by sharing traditional practices, food and what life is like on the North Slope.
She originally joined the app in 2016 back when it was called Musical.ly. And while stuck at home during the hunker down, she was inspired to start creating again.
“Being able to bring joy and laughter, especially during these COVID-19 times, is something I enjoy doing,” she said.
Her most popular video, “Things In My Native Community That Just Make Sense,” is a tour of her mother’s siġḷuaq, or ice cellar, and has 2.6 million views. In another favorite, Glenn shows off her various ulus and their uses in a video that has 2.2 million views.
Aside from the genuine fun of making TikToks, Glenn said that with her newfound platform she strives to advocate and educate others about Iñupiaq culture.
“For those that are interested in Inuit culture, from my perspective, I hope that they feel like they’ve learned at least just one thing about our way of life,” she said. “I hope that they can understand that life is very different from what they are used to and that they can, hopefully, respect our world view.”
Sharing her culture on a global platform is rewarding, and she has even had young women, mothers and people adopted outside of their cultures reach out to thank her for creating Indigenous content.
“In some ways, you can feel like a rock star when you have all of these people saying, ‘Oh I love your content,’ and ‘I’m so glad that you’re on here sharing our way of life so people understand,’” she said. “Because then maybe it’s one less fight they have to fight, or one less racist comment that they have to deal with.”
Despite the popularity of Glenn’s videos, she has also received a significant number of hateful comments, calling them out directly in her videos. Whether it be a public service announcement to “Stop Bashing Indigenous People” or addressing a commenter for disrespecting Iñupiaq sacred practices, Glenn takes those opportunities to educate.
“At first I was getting frustrated, annoyed with all of these people, and I was thinking, ‘There must be a lot of people that think like this,’” she said. “So the least I can do is try to educate and share a little bit more about why we do what we do and how we do it.”
Glenn said TikTok is not for those who can’t take criticism and credits the strong women in her life for giving her the wherewithal to handle the internet trolls.
“All of the women that have surrounded me have always been very strong and have taught me that the most important opinion of myself is my opinion,” she said. “When I do create, having that foundation, you can almost feel invincible.”
TikTok is full of niche communities, including one for Indigenous creators. Though it took her some time to discover it, Glenn has found her TikTok community. And through her videos, she wants to provide representation for her people, she said.
“You turn on the T.V. today ... you’re just not going to see somebody that looks like you, talks like you, acts like you. It’s unheard of,” Glenn said. “The only place you might see somebody like you is maybe in the news, and it’s not always for a good thing. So being able to find other Indigenous creators, it’s amazing.”
Since storytelling is such an integral part of Iñupiaq culture, Glenn sees TikTok as an opportunity to continue telling the narrative of her people but in a new way. She hopes that by sharing her story she can inspire others to do the same.
“The more Natives that go out there and create and make this safe space for our youth, the better we will all be and that’s really what my hope is,” Glenn said.
Really all that truly matters is making her aaka, or grandmother, laugh, Glenn said. Glenn made a video poking fun at when she tries to speak Iñupiaq versus when her grandmother speaks fluently by comparing herself to a toddler. Her grandmother got a good laugh out of it, she said.
“If I can pass that test, then it doesn’t matter if I have one like or 500,000 likes,” she said. “If I can make her laugh, it’s made all the difference to me.”
Watch Glenn’s videos on TikTok@patukglenn.