Since the premiere of Star Wars: The Mandalorian (Disney+) in November 2019, fans around the world have fallen in love with Baby Yoda. Across social media networks, Indigenous fans quickly recognized and claimed Baby Yoda as one of their own, producing hundreds of memes that depict “NDN Baby Yoda” learning from elders and aunties, dressed in regalia and dancing at powwows, honing “the force” to fight against colonialism, and more. Indigenous social media influencers, bloggers, and news outlets shared the ever-growing collection of Indigenous Baby Yoda memes, art and beadwork, and offered reflections on #NativeTwitter’s “soft spot” for the character and what it means that “Baby Yoda is now one of us.” Patrick Willie (Navajo) and Jacob Billy (Navajo) also did a “Baby Yoda is Indigenous!?” episode for their YouTube comedy web series Natives React, which has over 128K subscribers and covers the latest in Indigenous internet memes and popular culture.
The outpouring of joy and creativity around Baby Yoda is a rare moment of visibility for Indigenous fans, who have long been erased and excluded from mainstream media industries and fan spaces. Indigenous digital fan networks highlight Indigenous presence and participation in popular media, consumerism, fandom, and digital cultures. These spaces have grown in tandem with and through the popularization of Indigenous fannish sensibilities, such as in the “Unapologetically Indigenous, Unabashedly Female & Unblinkingly Nerdy” podcast Métis in Space, hosted by two Métis women Molly Swain and Chelsea Vowel, and the idea of the “Indigenerd” at the heart of fan convention Indigenous Pop Culture Expo created by Lee Francis IV (Laguna Pueblo).
Like other fan of color communities, Indigenous fans put considerable time and effort into transformative fan practices that make existing media content more relevant and interesting for themselves. Even as they provide a source of pleasure, community building, and collective affirmation, these networks also apply the skills and sensibilities of media fandom and Internet memes to mobilize critiques challenging erasure and misrepresentation as well as in support of grassroots activism and decolonization. Attending to Indigenous digital fan networks and memes complicates scholarly understandings of fan-activism and offers insight into the current position of Indigenous consumers within mainstream media culture.
For notes and references, see:
Jacqueline Land, “‘Since Time Im-MEME-morial’!: Indigenous Meme Networks and Fan-Activism,” JCMS 60, no. 2 (Winter 2021): 181–186.