Tattooing through indigenous eyes • tattoodo

Tattooing Through Indigenous Eyes Tips Clear

Tattooing is a long-standing tradition for many indigenous communities around the world. Considered a link between the physical and spiritual worlds, each precious mark has its own special meaning. While some can ensure your safe passage into the afterlife, others can validate your status in the community, serve as protection, mark the passage to adulthood, and more.

Teaching the public this rich history of Indigenous tattooing is Skindigenous’ mission. The documentary series, now in its second season and already filming its third, explores various traditions from around the world.

For Season 2, the producers interviewed a number of fierce female artists from North America to North Africa and beyond. So what does it really feel like to be Indigenous, female, and tattooed in 2020? We asked this question to tattoo artists Stephanie Big Eagle (a nomadic artist with deep Yankton Sioux roots) and Audie Murray (a Métis artist from Saskatchewan, Canada), as well as filmmakers Angie-Pepper O’Bomsawin and Sara Ben-Saud .

What role does tattooing play in preserving and recovering your heritage?

Stephanie Big Eagle, who was born in Hawaii and now travels all over the United States, didn’t really connect with her native heritage until she was 23. Her journey began after searching for her estranged father on the Yankton Sioux Reservation in South Dakota. There, she felt an instant connection to her roots, and these days she uses her art to reclaim her legacy — and as a powerful tool for activism.

“I see the fact that I’m still alive and tattooing as a symbol of resilience,” she says. “During the era of colonialism, our tattoo traditions were one of the first practices to be targeted and nearly eradicated through the generations of physical and cultural genocide that all Indigenous peoples still suffer.”

It’s one of the reasons she refuses to switch hands to a western machine, even though it might be incredibly tempting. “I’ve considered using the machine quite often, especially when my punching sessions last all night or when my hands are so worn out from a grueling session that I have to open them up,” she admits. “However, I feel an immense connection to my ancestors by continuing to remain a hand artist.”

This connection drives everything she does. “I believe our tattoos connect both the physical and spiritual worlds,” she explains. “I always ask for the blessing of both our ancestors, or our loved ones, when I do this. It is essential for me to ask permission and tell them about our intentions, so I start each session by talking [with them] aloud.”

Sara Ben-Saud is a Canadian-Libyan-Tunisian filmmaker who has documented traditional Amazigh tattooing in her native Tunisia. She may not be indigenous herself, but her experience in North Africa has taught her the very lesson Stephanie is trying to teach the world. “What I find incredible is that each touch of the skin represents a further step towards decolonization,” she muses. “For them, appropriating the revival of this art form means that they no longer want to be in the shadows. These traditions belong to them and so many times the colonizers have tried to take them away. Each tattoo helps them reclaim what is theirs and that is the beauty of this one.

It’s not always easy, however. “The biggest challenge within the Indigenous tattoo community is reclaiming something that hasn’t been actively practiced in a very long time,” says Audie Murray, a multidisciplinary artist who works with Cree and Michif visual culture. “It’s a lot of work, a lot of research and a lot of trust.”

Stephanie, your Thunderbird design is proof of the powerful role tattoos can play in activism. How did this design become part of the Dakota Pipeline protests?

“I created the Standing Rock Tattoo, or the Thunderbird design, to imbue the deep connection I have as a descendant of the Oceti Sakowin or the 7 Fires of the Council of Nations Lakota, Dakota and Nakota because it was on their former homelands and the water that the Dakota Access Pipeline was forcibly placed,” Stephanie says of the design which was originally tattooed at a fundraiser supporting the Dakota protests. Pipeline.

“I chose the thunderbird that brings rain to the Great Plains. Without the thunderbird we would have no water and without the lightning that comes from the thunderbird we would have no life,” explains she said, adding, “Additionally, the Thunderbird has been known to attack those with bad intentions with flashes of its eyes.

There was also an even deeper meaning embedded in each tattoo. “I asked the Thunderbird to protect those carrying the design from the violent onslaught of DAPL soldiers and mercenaries,” she reveals. “The design ended up bringing together thousands of people around the world, from the artists who tattooed it, to the people who wore it on their skin, to those who drew it on their clothes and painted it. on flags and became a symbol against oppression, tyranny, corruption and greed.

What is a tattoo tradition unique to your nation that you are trying to save?

Although the similarities between the various indigenous tattoo traditions run deep, each nation also has its own set of ink customs. For Stephanie Big Eagle, discovering the most sacred marks in her community was a major passion project. “I spent years looking for evidence of my tribe’s traditional tattoo culture,” she reveals. Her search lasted over a decade until she “finally found evidence of simple facial markings among some Dakota and Lakota women.”

“From what I have seen, some women in our tribe would have simple lines or circles that extended down the chin, from the eye to the temple, or above the eye to the forehead , which signified their position or status in the tribe, as well as their devotion to an honorable path in life,” she explains. “As soon as I realized that, I took on my own facial marks. in the summer of 2016 to celebrate and revitalize this tradition in my own way.”

For Audie Murray, it’s about preserving the stitching of the skin originating from his Nehiyawak lineage, which was “practiced by many nations across Turtle Island”. Opening up on the unique needle and thread technique, she notes, “Thinking about how this act of expression could not have been widely practiced for generations, I realize the importance of its resurgence.” So how does it work? “The needle passes under the skin to create a kind of tunnel, then the thread passes the ink. Nothing remains under the skin except the deposited ink. It’s a bit like sewing.

Another female artist working hard to preserve her tattooed ancestry is Pip Hartley from New Zealand. She is the focus of an episode written and directed by Angie-Pepper O’Bomsawin, a native of the Abenaki First Nations of Quebec, Canada. While documenting Hartley’s Māori Tā moko traditions, O’Bomsawin witnessed firsthand the transformative power of chin tattoos. “While we were filming, it’s hard to explain what we witnessed,” she recalls. “It was as if a complete transformation had taken place and there was a spiritual shift in Jade, [the mother of five being tattooed]. It was as if she arrived as a person and then became the woman she was meant to be.

What are the biggest misconceptions about Indigenous communities in 2020? And how can we all work to eradicate them?

“In my experience, it’s that we no longer exist and/or our sacred objects, our traditions and our ceremonies are for sale”, explains Stephanie Big Eagle. “I just left a community called Sedona, Arizona. Just over 100 years ago it was home to the Yavapai Apache who were forcibly removed and placed on reservations. This land was once considered so holy that tribal peoples, even from the far north and south, traveled to the land to hold ceremonies.

“Today there are virtually no natives left in Sedona, and yet the images of the natives, as well as their sacred objects, such as pipes, headdresses and sacred medicines, are sold at exuberant prices by non-indigenous,” she continues. “Our way of life and our sacred ceremonies are not for sale. We are still here and it is time for our voices to be heard.

“There’s a big misconception that we’re living on the backs of taxpayers,” adds director Roxann Karonhiarokwas Whitebean, who hails from the Mohawk Territory of Kahnawake in Quebec, Canada. “The reality is that we don’t receive adequate funding for education or child and family services in Indigenous communities. Indigenous people are educated and making positive contributions to the world and I feel like women are leading this enterprise.

Unfortunately, that’s no small feat, especially as a woman. “I’m constantly told that I have to create films in a way that a multicultural audience can understand, so I generally have to keep the native language to a minimum and refrain from being too political,” says Whitebean. “As a young Indigenous director, I also have to maintain a healthy relationship with my community and respect the protocols that are put in place. There were times when I believed in a story, but my community didn’t share the same sentiment, so I have to use the platform given to me responsibly – it can be difficult.

“A good first step is to know what land you live on,” concludes Audie Murray. “For example, I live in Victoria, Canada, so that city is the unceded territory of Lekwungen. A friend of mine, Samantha Marie Nock, put together this amazing list of resources to help you learn more.

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