Whether it’s through a decadent home-cooked meal, an Inuktitut word of the day or through dancing outside in the snow, these Northern influencers are offering a glimpse into the places they call home. Using their unique backdrop, Northerners are connecting through social media and drawing the attention of thousands from across the globe. And while many have gained a massive following practically overnight, most will tell you that their content is just as much for themselves as it is for others. With their own form of self-expression, each of these influencers has allowed others to virtually set foot into a place most have never even dreamed of.
Annie Buscemi is helping others appreciate their northern life, one day at a time.
@Ullaakkut (IG) annieneevee (TikTok)
When Iqaluit-based Annie Buscemi began making videos about reasons to stay alive, at first, it acted as a reminder for herself.
Buscemi had been working as an apprentice electrician for two years when she had to take time off work for a hand injury—one that was misdiagnosed at first, which only prolonged the issue. The time off meant she spent a lot of hours managing her injury, along with her growing anxiety and depression. To help, she took to social media.
“I knew I wouldn’t be working for a while, so I just wanted to do something to keep my spirits up and keep myself busy and healthy,” she says.
Buscemi’s handle, @Ullaakkut, means “good morning” in Inuktitut and each day she lists a reason to stay alive, which varies from appreciating the colours of the sky at dusk to the tradition of namesakes.
“Ullaakkut. Good morning, happy day,” she begins a post. “Today I think we should stay alive for when a family member takes out quaq [frozen meat].”
She got the idea from a US TikTok user who posts similar videos, only Buscemi wanted to create content specific to being Inuit and living in the North.
“Mental health is a huge, huge issue up here in the North,” she says. “It’s something that needs to be talked about and needs to be addressed and I believe it’s very important to have these conversations no matter how hard it can be.”
Although her videos are geared toward a local audience in Iqaluit, @Ullaakkut’s reach soon went far beyond that. While the channel has only been around since October 2020, Buscemi has gained more than 11,500 followers worldwide.
It also resulted in Buscemi being awarded Inuk Woman of the Year through Pauktuutit Inuit Women of Canada. The national organization works toward creating awareness of Inuit women’s needs, while advocating for equality and social improvement. Every year, Pauktuutit celebrates one Inuk woman who has contributed to Canada’s Inuit communities in some way. But for the first time, earlier this winter, Pauktuutit offered an award for a Young Inuk Woman of the Year as well, choosing Buscemi for the honour.
“After such a tough year with the pandemic, our communities needed examples of strength and resilience more than ever, and we found it in the inspiring leadership and achievements of [Buscemi, as well as Nunatsiavut-born Sharon Edmunds],” reads a press release from Pauktuutit.
There are moments all that attention can be overwhelming. Buscemi receives dozens of messages a day and says she had to stop herself from constantly checking the number of likes and comments. She’s learned to take an hour away from her phone after posting and there are days where she says she has to spend time alone in her room. When things are particularly tough, the first place Buscemi goes is to her grandparent’s house nearby.
“They really help ground me and support me in what I’m doing and they also… helped me realize I’m giving so much to others, so I need time to give to myself as well, to give myself time, and to be patient with myself.”
On other days, @Ullaakkut has been a saving grace. Re-recording the videos multiple times before publishing helps the positive affirmations sink in for herself, Buscemi says.
“It’s honestly changed my life quite a bit,” she says. “I find I think differently. I find I’m much more grateful of the things around me—even the air and my surroundings—and I have never been so mentally aware of myself and the world.”
Buscemi receives messages from others who explain her posts have also helped them get through a hard time. And that, in itself, is a reward, she says.
Gurdeep Pandher is spreading joy to Thousands across the globe through his bhangra.
The first time Gurdeep Pandher’s videos went viral was through BBC when 12.5 million people watched him do bhangra with Whitehorse mayor Dan Curtis.
Since BBC shared Pandher’s video in 2017 he has gained more than 28,000 followers on Instagram (at the time of writing this article), where he posts clips of himself dancing outdoors against a wintry Yukon backdrop.
Those scenes of forests, frozen rivers and snow-peaked mountains have even inspired a few to make a trip up north.
“Many people have actually come to the Yukon after watching my videos and came to meet me at my cabin,” Pandher says. “They told me they watched my video and it inspired them to explore the North.”
When people aren’t personally visiting him, Pandher receives dozens of letters and videos from across the globe. Often, people are thanking him for brightening up their day—including a recent postcard that came in the mail from Kansas.
“When I make a video and I share it on social [media], I see so many comments and not just comments, but letters, messages, emails from people telling me they felt joy, and they felt positivity after watching my video,” he says. “That’s my motivation to continue doing this because I feel people want this to keep going.”
Back in 2006, Pandher moved overseas from India to Canada and decided to travel across the country to find the right place to call home. He finally settled in Whitehorse in 2012, where he accepted a position with the territorial government. Now the Northerner is in school to become a teacher. While he’s excited about his new career path, Pandher refers to bhangra as his true passion. And apparently, it means a lot to those watching as well.
Despite his growing fame, Pandher says he tries to keep humble.
“I mean, I live in a cabin in the Yukon wilderness without running water and I don’t even have a shower at my place,” he says, laughing.
“I hear people say to me, ‘Yea, you’re a celebrity,’ and all this—it feels good, but… there are so many known people in the world and I feel like that doesn’t make any difference unless your work is creating some positivity.”
Emilie Thibeault-Maloney shows off the perks of exploring the outdoors—in French.
When Emilie Thibeault-Maloney led a camera crew around Whitehorse to some of her favourite spots in the city, she had no idea the show would be watched by millions across the planet.
Thibeault-Maloney had been asked to lead an episode of the French travel series Échappées Belles back in 2017.
“I didn’t know [the show] was such a big deal at the time,” she says. “I just did it for fun and I realized it was being seen by two million people.”
The crew had found Thibeault-Maloney online, through the following she had gained from her blog and Instagram page, @layukonnaise, that boasts the beauty of the North, alongside other locations she’s visited. Through photos of wintry landscapes, wildlife and outdoor activities, Thibeault-Maloney showcases all the Yukon has to offer. Accompanying those photos are stories in French. While she is bilingual, writing in her native tongue was always an integral part of her online presence.
“I started my blog when I first moved up from Quebec in 2013 and I found there was not a lot of information available in French,” Thibeault-Maloney says. “So I decided to start my own blog, as a hobby really. I got into photography more and thought it would be good practice for writing, but really it’s just for fun.”
Thibeault-Maloney became more serious about curating content online after her appearance on Échappées Belles. And with so many of her followers being from Europe and other spots outside of Canada, layukonnaise acts as a way to expose others to the beauty of the North. For Thibeault-Maloney, however, it’s more about showing off her active lifestyle, rather than the place itself.
“I’m hoping [my blog] inspires people to live a life that they love,” she says. “When I moved up here [in 2013], I found a lifestyle that made me really happy. When I share content it’s not necessarily to tell people they all have to come up here. It’s to say this lifestyle is easy and you can build a life that looks like this too.”
Becky Han offers daily Inuit lessons that are connecting the south to the North.
Arctic Bay, Nunavut
When Becky Han began sharing music through her personal Facebook page in 2016, she didn’t expect to receive hundreds of friend requests from strangers. “Through people sharing [my music], a lot of people kept trying to add me,” Han says.
To avoid adding too many “stranger Facebook friends,” Han created a public account dedicated solely to her music, which is all sung in Inuktitut. She then added an Instagram, Twitter, and more recently, a TikTok account to her roster. But those other channels have strayed far from sharing clips of her songs.
Han regularly posts videos about her Inuit culture and language, which includes an Inuktitut word of the day, as a way to help others understand her background.
“I found that there was a lot more visible interest in different Indigenous languages. I saw other Indigenous role models doing their word of the day in their language, and I wanted to see more Inuktitut out there,” she says.
While Han started those daily videos through Twitter, she began sharing them through TikTok, “because that’s where all the young kids are.”
That’s also where her largest following is—about 21,000 people.
Her fame exploded last year, however, when she sent out a tweet asking for people to donate snow pants to Inuujaq School. The Arctic Bay school needed winter attire for its students, so Han agreed to pass the message on. While she expected a few responses, it resulted in dozens of retweets as well as interest from one Canadian actor.
Ryan Reynolds got in touch with Han and then collaborated with Canada Goose to send more than 300 new parkas. They also sent snow pants, Baffin boots, socks, hats, and mitts.
That experience was “surreal and heartwarming,” Han says. “It just shows, you know, people do listen and are willing to lend a helping hand, which is really encouraging to keep doing it and to ask for help where and when it’s needed.”
That post helped boost her following and now Han’s pages act as a platform to connect others, as well as herself, to the Arctic.
Han moved down south about three years ago, where she is raising her family and pursuing her music career. Sharing Inuktitut content online not only teaches others the language, but allows her to continue speaking in her native language like she had been able to back in Nunavut.
So, what began as a platform for Han to share her talents has transformed into a community that connects herself and others to Inuit culture.
Karis Gruben has been using social media to express her passions, from modelling to crafts.
It’s difficult not to engage with Karis Gruben’s images. The NWT-born artist has been watching her following on social media steadily grow as she displays a grid of glamorous modelling shots. From colourful headshots of Gruben donning dramatic makeup, to black-and-white poses in gorgeous delicate gowns, the Inuk model has posed for dozens of photoshoots. Lately, however, she is trying to shift her online attention from herself to her art.
Through her secondary account @k_grub_art, Gruben posts images of her creative work, which ranges from carvings, beading and embroidery to life-like portraits.
“I used to be a lot busier with [the modelling account], but I pushed it aside to focus more on my art,” she says. “Now, I’m stepping back from the modelling side of things.”
While Gruben first took modelling courses in 2013, she never meant to turn her Instagram into a page that promotes it. It was her personal account at first, where she shared images from each photoshoot. It grew in popularity and that helped her obtain more gigs as she went.
When it comes to her art account, however, Gruben has had to work a little harder. That account has about 450 followers—less than a third of what @k_grub has. To better promote her art, Gruben has held giveaway contests where she offers up some of her artwork. She also cross-promotes her work with other Indigenous artists, which has simultaneously helped her stay connected to the North.
After 10 years in Ottawa, Gruben recently returned to the NWT and finds her work is more accepted here—especially as it often involves fur.
At the end of the day, however, it doesn’t matter how others view Gruben and her artwork. While she is taking the time to build up her Instagram following, she has one main concern when it comes to posting: “My current page is for me and for people to have fun with me.”
Isabelle Chapadeau was inspired after Moving south to continue sharing her Inuit heritage and culture with others.
With more than 43,000 followers on TikTok, Isabelle Chapadeau says the most valuable thing she’s learned through content creation is patience. Chapadeau, aka @Isapadeau on TikTok, has been teaching people about her Inuit heritage through her online platform since late-2019. The page took off quickly, as she gained 25,000 followers in the first month of creating her channel.
“It’s really awesome to say I’m talking about my own culture with people all around the world,” she says. “At first, I was shy about it, but now I know where I’m going with this.”
After moving to Ottawa in August 2020, Chapadeau realized how little southerners know about her language and culture. And while many have praised and thanked Chapadeau for teaching them, not everyone has been so kind.
“It’s going well, but it shocked me how people were so ignorant, to be honest,” she says.
Chapadeau explains she recently created an account called @isapadeau_qc where she posts similar content, but in French. That account has gained more negative feedback than the English one, which has been particularly hurtful for Chapadeau, as French is her first language. It feels more personal, she says, but that only motivates her to keep going.
“It goes with what I’m doing. That’s why I started [the social channel] because so many people don’t know about us Inuit,” she says. “It’s something I’m passionate about and that’s why it doesn’t become too heavy. If I wasn’t passionate about it, it would get to me a lot more.”
Instead, Chapadeau focuses on the positive. In Ottawa, she says she knows many Inuit who haven’t had access to learning about their culture or language. Creating this channel has acted as a way to help them learn just as much as it helps non-Indigenous people. And that fact that she’s expecting her first child has acted as even more motivation to keep going.
“Having a future little Inuk [helps] me to understand the importance of culture and identity. I want my kid to feel safe in a good environment and educate him about our beautiful culture,” she says, adding that she hopes all Inuit will have that opportunity.
“I hope with TikTok, it’s going to motivate them to be proud of who they are.”
Dana van Vliet introduces the Yukon to her southern friends Through colourful outdoor photoshoots.
Dana van Vliet considered social media as a career while studying media communications at Humber College. The program meant she learned photography and videography skills, how to work with different brands and how to write proposals.
“All these things that would be really good skills for me to have if I wanted to go into a career of social media,” she says. But it didn’t last long. “I decided the program wasn’t for me, quit the program, ended up going to university and then started getting into social media. So, looking back on it—it’s always kind of funny.”
Five years later, van Vliet is finishing up her last semester of university with a double major in psychology and anthropology. And yet, through that time, she’s been steadily curating content online.
Van Vliet’s Instagram shows a grid of colourful photos that range from her jumping in the air against a mountainous backdrop to serene pink and purple sunsets. There are some unique shots too—including a popular post of van Vliet ice skating in a rainbow bathing suit.
Although her page, @Danadoesthings, has been around since 2017, van Vliet began posting more consistently in the last couple of years as a way to show off the Yukon to her friends based in Toronto. “It’s such a stark contrast so it gives me that opportunity to share a little bit more of my home with them,” she explains.
The page has also acted as a creative outlet that has, in turn, given her more appreciation for the place she’s from.
“I was always so happy to be from here and grow up here, but I guess it lets you see a different side of things because of how many people message me saying ‘I’m so jealous of where you live, that looks incredible, I wish I could do those things’ and it makes me kind of grateful every day that I can just step into my backyard and be in one of the most amazing places.”
Her following is steadily growing to over 3,000 people, but that hardly matters to van Vliet. At the end of the day, she says her page is an act of love for the place she calls home.
Adelina Voevoda has gained hundreds of followers by showing off her culinary passion.
After a long shift of shuffling through hospital floors and working with specialists and patients to get them back on their feet, Adelina Voevoda drops her gear to the floor at home, ready to finally relax.
It is only natural that after a long shift, the nurse is looking for a way to unwind. And while that may mean a glass of wine or a Netflix binge for some, for Voevoda, it’s rolling up her sleeves and concocting a well-put together meal. And then posting about it online.
After launching her foodie Instagram @Journey.of.flavours in the summer of 2020, the Yellowknifer has gained a following of more than 2,200 people who are all intrigued by her intricate meals—from wine poached pears to her favourite dish: a crepe suzette with an orange-butter sauce, which is flambèed with Grand Marnier. “I really do it out of passion,” she says.
Her posts have certainly inspired people. Voevoda says she regularly receives comments and messages asking for recipes, cooking tips, and advice on buying cookware. She even won a gift card from an Ontario business that sells cookware, simply because they liked her photos.
Voevoda’s followers are not just from Canada. Many come from the US, Brazil and India, among other places. “On an almost daily basis, I have to answer questions and reply to comments on my posts,” she says. “I need to stay consistent and active on my account.”
As her fanbase grows, Voevoda has learned to keep a schedule for when she posts. While the amateur chef cooks decadent meals daily, she often files the photos to publish at a later time.
Lately, however, Voevoda has been mixing food with travel posts as it is yet another passion for the nurse. She hopes to post more travel content once the borders open up again, but until then, she’s happy to post about her cooking and travels within the territory. Because ultimately, it’s about sharing what she loves with others and connecting more people to the place she calls home.
Who To Follow:
Other popular social media stars from the North:
Since beginning her channel in March 2020, Shina Novalinga has gained 1.6 million followers on TikTok, where she first became famous for posting videos of her and her mother throat-singing together. She continues to post those videos as well as others showing off the traditional items her mother makes for her.
Cosplayer Dayle Kubluitok has gained about 86,000 followers on TikTok since creating their first video in January 2020. Kubluitok, from Rankin Inlet and now based in Iqaluit, often posts videos donning cosplay costumes or showing off their anime-style artwork.
Based in Finland, Aqqalu has gained more than 10,000 followers through Twitter, where he posts his music videos along with photos of his home and culture.
Actor Marika Sila has gained quite a following on social media, with 104,000 followers on Instagram. This Yellowknife-born actor posts everything from videos of her dancing and showing off traditional wear to discussing racism.
At 15 years old, Kache Daniels’ YouTube videos have received close to 30 million views. Based in Hay River, NWT, Daniels’ channel is devoted to autonomous sensory meridian responses (ASMR), which are essentially soft sounds, like whispering or tapping lightly on the microphone, meant to help with relaxation.