Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
It’s all about the “aunty laugh,” says Jon-Ross Merasty-Moose about the latest trend of mermen photos hitting social media from Manitoba First Nations and now coming from Saskatchewan and Ontario.
“There’s always these people in groups that will pick up something and then just kind of go about it their own way and then…once it gets an aunty laugh—it's a very loud laugh, the aunty laugh—and once you hear that, you know it's something really funny,” said Merasty-Moose from O-Pipon-Na-Piwin Cree Nation.
It all got rolling with a bit of “friendly competition” between staff from the communities of Norway House and Cross Lake at Wapanohk Community School, the Cree bilingual school in Thompson, Man. Merasty-Moose teaches physical education from kindergarten to Grade 8 there.
“There was just something they did to go back and forth, because that's just what those two communities tend to do, jokingly,” he said, “and the mermaid pictures spawned and the biggest thing was there's people that loved it and enjoyed it, found it super humorous.”
It didn’t start off quite as funny, says Merasty-Moose, when a woman from Cross Lake posted her own mermaid picture on social media after Disney’s remake of The Little Mermaid hit the theatres. She received negative comments.
“But despite something like that being so positive and providing people with a little laugh, there's also some people who come at it negatively and disrespectfully,” said Merasty-Moose, also known as Moose Tree Gaming.
In 2020 when COVID hit, Merasty-Moose turned to the online streaming business of playing video games to socialize. He had been an active basketball coach in the community, but COVID brought an end to that.
“I needed a way to interact with people and streaming was probably the best way because I was already playing video games,” he said.
His daughter picked Moose Tree Gaming for his Facebook handle.
When he was on paternal leave recently for eight weeks, Merasty-Moose started “meming myself based off everyday situations that Indigenous people face or see or experience.”
So after sharing the Cross Lake woman’s mermaid with the catch line of “mermaid on the rez!” he naturally memed himself, covering his body from head to hips with a fish body and leaving his legs uncovered. His post read, “Merman spotted in Thompson MB.”
That’s when more mermen started surfacing.
“I thought of it more or less as the males supporting the women there,” he said.
“It was probably a dare. All it takes is one person to say, ‘You should do that. You should do that.’ And it's usually the one person in the community who most people would expect to do some of that because they're like the jokester in the community. So then they do it,” he said.
Mermen were coming out of the water in First Nations right across Manitoba! Wasagamack. Garden Hill. Berens River. Little Grand Rapids. Poplar River. Pukatawagan. Spit Lake. Ebb and Flow. St. Theresa Point. Kinonjeoshtegon. Dog Creek. And on and on and on.
“To see how many people have just taken it upon themselves to dress like that and find the perfect location in their community…laying on the rock or lay in the sand or whatever it is they're doing…and to see them doing that and then tagging people and then sharing with one another and then people challenging their communities like that,” said Merasty-Moose. “It has surprised me.”
Merasty-Moose has no idea how many mermen are out there but they’re growing every day, with First Nations in Saskatchewan and Ontario picking up on the trend. He wouldn’t be surprised to see mermen lying on the beaches in Alberta and British Columbia in the next day or two.
The mermen and the challenge are all about First Nations’ humour, says Merasty-Moose.
“It lightens the mood a lot in situations where communities are taking stuff too serious about what's going on. All it takes is somebody to make everybody realize, ‘Hey, at the end of the day, we're all in this together, sharing something serious, sharing something funny.’ It's what brings us together as a community,” he said.
Despite that acknowledgement Merasty-Moose, is adamant that he won’t be making his debut wearing a fish tail anytime soon no matter how many people ask him.
“I can't. You know. I'm a teacher. You know, a school teacher. And especially my grades 7 and 8, they will chew me up if they see me in a mermaid outfit. I would never hear the end of it,” he said.
So he’ll be holding off on that social media craze because he knows, in the next week or two, mermen will be replaced by a new social media craze.
Never miss a Windspeaker article. Subscribe Today to our new Windspeaker Newsletter!
Local Journalism Initiative Reporters are supported by a financial contribution made by the Government of Canada.