“Hey you. Let me teach you something about braids.” Tiktok user @the_land sits facing the camera, brushing his hair and calmly plaiting three strands on either side of his head. He speaks softly and confidently, while words flash on the screen highlighting parts of his speech. “When braiding our hair, we’re supposed to have good thoughts, because we’re connecting with our body, mind, and spirit. That’s what the three strands are for.”
The video, tagged with #nativetiktok and #indigenous, has been shared more than 28,000 times. It’s one of the most popular videos that comes up when you search those hashtags on Tiktok, and @the_land is one of the app’s most prominent Native American creators.
But if everyone had universal internet – and not just access to pricy data plans from their phones, or patchy connections that take forever to load, but clear, high-speed, robust internet access – we would see these TikToks (and Instagram influencers, and YouTube personalities) multiply. As it stands, American Indian reservations and tribal lands have some of the worst internet connectivity in the country. Earlier this year, some tribes weren’t even able to apply for free FCC broadband licences because, ironically, they didn’t have good internet connections, so they couldn’t submit all the application materials online.
And those tribes aren’t just tiny, or rural and isolated. The White Mountain Apache Reservation spans about 2,600 square miles, just a few hours from Phoenix. More than 16,000 people are members, with the majority living on the reservation. About half of those people don’t have reliable internet access, estimates David Fish, the WMAT IT director.
“If you’re willing to pay enough, you can get decent speeds. We have pretty good internet service for the tribal offices, but we pay almost $3,000 a month for it,” Fish said. Residents