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Indigenous dancer who went viral on TikTok using performances to educate

A Burnaby man from Ktunaxa Nation picked up traditional dancing five years ago in an effort to reconnect with his roots. He has since become a social media sensation.

An Indigenous man is using social media to educate people on First Nations heritage and culture with the hopes of people being more empathetic.

Peter White, known as "Peter Not So White” or kanǂupqa kȼiǂmiyit (NightRunner) on social media, started posting his videos on TikTok last November after not being able to participate in pow wows due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

"I started to figure out that people get really captivated by the dancing so I could throw knowledge in there to educate people also,” the Burnaby resident says. 

He performs the men’s traditional, which originated from the Sioux people (Lakota, Nakota and Dakota), in public places. It's something his ancestors were not allowed to do.

“Dancing and potlatches were banned for almost 100 years. You weren’t allowed to do anything traditional and not wear any (traditional) clothing,” he says.

Many people will stop and watch his dances, asking him questions afterward. 

"l am very grateful when I am dancing. I sometimes get lost in my dances, which is nice because I think of what has happened before and how I have the privilege to be able to suit up and dance wherever I want and how my ancestors couldn’t do that.” 

White trains year-round and focuses on cardio so he can dance longer without being fatigued. He only performs in the spring and summer months.

"With my teachings from my Ktunaxa people, we are supposed to hang up our regalia more in the fall and winter time because it has a spirit and it needs to rejuvenate itself to be able to heal people and be able to heal myself,” he says. 

His Indigenous regalia has many layers and each bell weighs about five pounds. 

"The regalia ties to who they are, where they come from, their style of dances, sometimes there's lineage passed down from families before,” explains White.

His grandfather, who White used to watch dance growing up, made and sold tepees. Fittingly, the social media sensation's regalia has many symbols of tepees and mountains. 

“Dancing is medicine. Dancing is movement," he says.

Five years ago, White struggled with cancer in his foot. He started learning how to perform the dances once he was released from hospital.

"As I was leaving the hospital, I just knew it was my sign to start dancing and start reconnecting with ceremonies and dancing,” he says.

White hopes his dancing will help people have more empathy and understanding toward Indigenous people.

“To understand a lot of us have been through a lot of trauma, not just through the residential schools, but the Indian Act, reserves; all these things add to be a toll on people,” he tells Glacier Media, adding he's used alcohol in the past to cope with the pain. "We have a lot of trauma we are healing from."

White danced at a Vancouver Art Gallery vigil, organized to remember the 215 children whose remains were found in unmarked burial sites at a former residential school in Kamloops. His TikTok video has been viewed more than 1.4 million times.

"I do get a lot of people that aren’t very educated on Indigenous rights and there’s a lot of racism on that,” he says. “Now that there are more Indigenous creators on there, it is getting less and less and people are getting more educated on subjects.”

This Canada Day, White has decided not to dance. Instead, he wants a moment of silence. 

“It would be nice for them to do that and put up orange flags.”

For immediate assistance to those who may need it, the National Indian Residential School Crisis Line is available 24 hours a day at 1-866-925-4419.