How Throat Singer Shina Novalinga Showcases Her Inuit Culture on TikTok

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A year ago, the Montreal‑based business student posted a video of herself and her mother throat singing on TikTok. One‑and‑a‑half million followers (and counting) later, she is sharing her Inuit culture with the world – and, in the process, reclaiming it for herself.

For as long as she can remember, 22‑year‑old Shina Novalinga has been surrounded by throat singing. Her mother, Caroline, is a professional throat singer who learned from Inuk elders in their hometown of Puvirnituq, Nunavik. When Novalinga was seven, Caroline began passing on the tradition – teaching her how to perform the musical and playful “game” between two singers who stand face to face and use breath and guttural sounds to create a rhythm.

Last spring, on a whim, Novalinga uploaded a throat singing video that she and her mom had recorded on TikTok (@shinanova). The video quickly went viral, with millions tuning in to watch the duo make rhythms inspired by the sounds of wind and wildlife. Since then, Novalinga has shared more than 100 videos, highlighting other aspects of her culture, like food and fashion, too. We caught up with Novalinga to chat about using social media to share her heritage, the community she’s building online and what her travels have taught her.

March 19, 2021

enRoute You shared your first TikTok video last April – now each one is seen by millions. What’s it been like to grow a community there?

Shina Novalinga I’ve received so much positive feedback from around the world. What’s really touched my mother and I are the responses from people who have said that our throat singing has helped them cope with anxiety or calmed them down. And even though we don’t have the same background, my videos help people embrace who they are, and make them want to learn more about their own cultures. I’ve also been connecting with other Indigenous creators like James Jones (@notoriouscree), Michelle Chubb (@indigenous_baddie) and Tia Wood (@tiamiscihk) – we’re building this beautiful community where we support and learn from each other.

“I feel like our voices – mine, my mother’s and our people’s – are finally being heard. We want to throat sing for those who couldn’t.”

ER Inuit throat singing was nearly lost in Canada after Christian missionaries banned it in the early 20th century. What does it mean to you to be able to reclaim throat singing in this way?

SN It means so much because there aren’t many women who know how to throat sing, but my mother is one of them. She learned directly from a professional, an elder, someone who kept the culture alive and passed it down to younger generations. And now, to put it on social media, I feel like our voices – mine, my mother’s and our people’s – are finally being heard. We want to throat sing for those who couldn’t.

ER Have you discovered other forms of throat singing on TikTok?

SN I knew there were regional styles of throat singing, but I’ve learned more about them through social media. My mother and I were surprised to hear different versions of songs like “The Little Puppy” and “The Love Song.” We’ve connected with throat singers from Mongolia, Arctic Siberia, Alaska, Nunavut and Nunavik who make different sounds as well. We all hope to meet one day.

A collage of black and white portraits of Shina Novalinga

ER What’s one of your favourite travel experiences where you learned a lot about another culture?

SN I went to Mongolia a couple years ago. We weren’t just in the capital city, Ulaanbaatar – we went three hours into the countryside and truly experienced the culture. My friend told me that Mongolians kiss with their noses the same as we do. So, I asked a Mongolian family we visited to show me. I was surprised that we had that in common, when we’re from another part of the world. I’ve noticed that with many different cultures, though: We share the same history and even some of the same practices. That’s what I take from all of my trips. It’s beautiful to learn from each other and to accept each other’s differences, not to judge and to be appreciative of all the cultures in the world.

ER What other trips have been meaningful for you?

SN My trip to Banff this past January, to meet and learn from Notorious Cree (James Jones), was beautiful. I learned a lot about spirituality and Cree culture, and connected more with my own culture. Notorious taught me about sage and our spirits, connecting with our roots and ancestors and prayers. You would think travelling the world is better, but you can learn so much in your own country – it was the best trip I’ve ever had.

ER You’re working on an album with your mom, which is coming out later this year. Where would you most like to perform?

SN Everywhere! But I think Mongolia would be my top pick because they have throat singing there and I didn’t get a chance to see it during my last trip. It would be amazing to learn from each other and sing together.

Shina Novalinga resting her hands and chin on her mother's head with her eyes closed

ER What elements of your culture, beyond throat singing, are you sharing with your followers?

SN Throat singing is definitely the thing I love most, but I’ve realized that there are so many beautiful things about Inuit culture and practices, like tunniit (traditional Inuit tattoos) and our handmade clothing, that the world should know about. By putting it on social media, we want everyone to see that our culture is rich and unique.

ER You recently raised over $12,000, using TikTok and GoFundMe, to donate to local women’s shelters. Why is giving back important to you?

SN It’s always been part of my values to help my people, and I felt like I could use this platform for good. I grew up with so many women around me, so it was super important for me to help others, especially those who have gone through trauma and abuse and are still trying to speak out about the missing and murdered Indigenous women. I will continue to use my platform this way – it helps me reconnect with my roots and my identity.

The Questionnaire

  • Carry‑on essentials My traditional Inuit clothes, like earrings and my atigik (parka), both handmade by my mother.

  • Favourite souvenir White sage, which helps cleanse your body and mind, or sweet grass. I was told that it’s better to receive sage as a gift, and I recently had some given to me by Notorious Cree.

  • First travel memory I was born in Nunavik, so going from there to Montreal or from Montreal to my hometown of Puvirnituq.

  • Bucket list destination The Philippines. I love the food, especially pancit and lumpia, and would love to learn more about their culture and traditions. Maybe I’ll even perform there one day.

  • Next trip I’ve heard so many good things about Vancouver. I’d like to eat sushi, go hiking, visit the beaches, explore nature and meet new people there when the pandemic is over.

  • Top travel hack Bring a pillowcase or another little piece of your home to make you feel comfortable in a new place.