Lessons from Re: Stock: Combating Indigenous Stereotypes

Storyblocks Features
October 15, 2021

Lessons from Re: Stock: Combating Indigenous Stereotypes

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Our most recent group of Re: Stock collections focused on increasing the representation of Indigenous Peoples in our stock footage. While partnering with our Indigenous creators, we worked to ensure we gave space to listen and learn what was important to consider when offering our platform to amplify their stories. We invited the creators to approach our partnership with a critical eye and to pressure test the integrity of our initiative. This resulted in stronger creative and content decisions. 

Indigenous culture is often misappropriated and used as a costume, imagery is frequently reduced to one culture instead of the many nations and tribes around the world, and Indigenous people are often portrayed as people that are of the past, with little modern representation. These are just a few of the common mischaracterizations when representing Indigenous Peoples. It is important to combat Indigenous stereotypes by including authentic representations of Indigenous Peoples in creative works. We learned the following things when working with our Re: Stock partners on this project:

Two Indigenous friends taking a selfie at the kitchen counter.

Still from Sonya Ballantyne’s Re: Stock collection.

1. Seeing positive modern representations of themselves in media is rare, and important.

Seeing Indigenous representations that portray positive, accurate and affirming reflections of themselves is just as important for members of the Indigenous community as it is to those outside of it. 

“Growing up, all I ever saw about Indigenous people was trauma or stuff that made us seem like we weren’t even alive now. This content shows that we’re living in the now, we’re thriving, and we’re happy” reflects Sonya Ballantyne

Increased representation normalizes and humanizes Indigenous peoples by representing their diverse lived experiences. Practically speaking, when you normalize the presence of communities, you de-normalize their exclusion, audiences start to recognize when communities are not included or reflected and ask why.

Sonya continued to share,“Representation is important because I know how isolating it is to not see yourself as the hero in any of the stories that you are watching as you’re growing up” 

Ultimately, as we learned from Sonya, this isolation can limit what the possibilities they and others see for themselves and continue to perpetuate exclusive practices. Scaling the number of Indigenous stories is key to undoing this isolation. Ultimately, as Carol Murphy puts it, “I think we’ll know as Indigenous communities that we’ve won the authenticity representation when we’re looked at the same as other communities within films, when we have just as many films out in the world as any other community, if not more.”

Close up of a Native American man surfing a wave with a boogie board.

Still from Tekpatl Kuauhtzi’s Re: Stock collection. It is important to combat Indigenous stereotypes

2. Indigenous People should be given the platform to tell their own stories

“Even though we have major allies and people that have tried to uplift our stories and uplift our voices, there is no one better to tell our stories about ourselves than our very own community”, the curator of Indigenous TikTok Josué Rivas says. Often, well-intentioned allies attempt to tell the stories of Indigenous peoples instead of giving that platform to Indigenous storytellers. Tekpatl, a Re: Stock partner, told us “Storytelling gives Native people a way to express ourselves, accurately share our beliefs, customs, and languages with the world.” With the inaccuracies surrounding Indigenous People, we learned that including their voices at every single point in production was imperative for authentic representation.

At Storyblocks, we’ve learned through education and our Re: Stock initiative how important it is to give people within communities a voice at all stages of creation to tell their stories, but we were also guilty of having offensive content of Indigenous representation that was created by our contributor base and approved by our automated systems. Despite our best intentions, we still have work to do to change the artificial intelligence and automated systems that still allow offensive imagery and titling to be accepted into our platform. This made us painfully aware of the lack of representation on our technical teams and the importance of diversity when building an inclusive and equitable product.

Close up shot of an Indigenous woman beading.

Still from Tekpatl Kuauhtzi’s Re: Stock collection.

3. True empowerment means a seat at the table, equitably

Recognizing the next steps in making an impactful change to Indigenous representation is important. We must look beyond short-term projects, trends, and even politics to reflect on our current systemic practices and make sure that steps are being taken to create inclusive and equitable practices so that diversity can grow and thrive. This means that representation is essential both behind and in front of the camera, even if this ultimately requires you (or someone on your team) take a step back.

Josué offered this, “Creating this library is a starting point, but in order to make a true impact, we need to change the structure of who tells stories and how we tell those stories. We need to give indigenous voices the tools to co-create. When we create balance, we find empathy, and that empathy lands on the dignity of those that are in front of the image.

“So for me, allies have the role of one listening and making sure that we have a space where people can be employable and they can share their own experience and to push those boundaries within the systems that continually oppress indigenous peoples. I think that allies have that access. And when that access is given, they must bring Indigenous people to the table to make sure that they have a say and listen.”

Image of a cheerful woman harvesting vegetables in the garden.

Still from Carol Murphy’s Re: Stock collection.

This iteration of Re: Stock was different from any of our previous ones. We couldn’t rely on internal expertise or look to any of our employees as a guiding resource on the Indigenous perspective. The team had to put aside assumptions on what we thought the Indigenous community needed or wanted based on our work with other marginalized groups. As we’ve well learned by now, no community is a monolith, and every underrepresented group has their own particular complexities and sensitivities to be mindful of. As Re: Stock partner Carol explained of entering Indigenous spaces, “Some of the watchouts for these groups trying to enter Indigenous communities is to not impose themselves on them too much. To not barge in, to really respect the slowness, if there is slowness, the quickness, if there is quickness. To respect everything in the present moment that’s going on around them within these Indigenous communities and understand that it might be different from your communities and how you were raised.”

Our partnerships with Josué and local institutions that were subject matter experts in the space were critical in making sure we got this right. Without their help many complexities and considerations that are unique to the Indigenous community would have been completely missed. 

As for Storyblocks, we still have a lot of work to do, particularly regarding our search algorithms and tagging issues. We are committed to prioritizing and making these improvements and committed to always being open to learning how we can be better. We look forward to continuing to share the lessons as we learn them with the hope that we can all be better at creating spaces for everyone to be able to be heard and seen always, and to work together to combat Indigenous stereotypes.

Sydney Carlton

Senior Director, Brand Marketing & Creative at Storyblocks

Sydney manages all things brand and creative at Storyblocks. She helped bring the Re:Stock campaign to life.