Natives Return to Tats to Strengthen Culture

“Due to colonization and the spread of Christianity throughout Native lands, Indigenous tattooing became taboo during the assimilation era. Even today, it’s discouraged. As a result, the practice went underground…As Native people begin to return to their traditional ways, we are starting to see a resurgence of the ancient art of tattooing.” R. Hopkins, ICTMN

A young man receives a temporary warrior tattoo. Photo Bill Rotha

A young man receives a temporary warrior tattoo. Photo Bill Rotha

Excerpt: Tats Incredible: The Revival of Indigenous Ink, By Ruth Hopkins, ICTMN

“Tattoos worn by the Polynesians are well known. Numerous North American Tribes also adorned themselves with permanent body art well before the arrival of Columbus…They had meaning. Some were considered necessary for travel to the spirit world.

Polynesian tatoo artists at work. Photo- sulu'ape Tatau

Polynesian tatoo artists at work. Photo- sulu’ape Tatau

Recently I was able to visit with Marjorie Tahbone, about traditional tattoo work. She is Inupiaq and Kiowa…Marjorie lives in Nome, Alaska and wears traditional tattoos on her body.

Artist Majorie Tahbone of Nome. Photo- Bill Roth

Artist Majorie Tahbone of Nome. Photo- Bill Roth

I was fortunate to grow up with a strong identity to my Inupiaq roots. I was always intrigued with tattoos from our region, I had always seen them on women in pictures, but whenever I asked there was very little information about them. It almost seemed taboo to talk about them. I myself have three traditional tattoos. The first one I received was on my chin in 2012…Now, Ms. Tahbone is actively involved in reviving the art of Indigenous tattooing.

Tattoo Artist Elle Festin. Photo- Northern Ink Xposure

Tattoo Artist Elle Festin. Photo- Northern Ink Xposure

  She says, Just a few months ago in August I learned from Elle Festin how to do traditional tattoo using the old methods: hand poking and skin stitching. After he taught me, I did tattoos on my family first…I have done a dozen others and still continue to learn and do more tattoos…Indigenous tattooing is part of who we are. As non-Native hipsters and popstars display generic dreamcatchers and Americans get so-called ‘Tribal’ tattoos on their flesh en masse, it becomes even more vital that we save the art of Indigenous body design from the brink of extinction, thereby preserving its true meaning and place in Native history so we may pass it down for generations to come.

“I hope to instill strong identity with our people… I feel that doing tattoos is one way I can do that. I love who I am and I know I am on the right path, I know my ancestors are with me every step of the way.”  ~Marjorie Tahbone~ Inupiaq and Kiowa

Henry David Thoreau

Category: Culture