Earth Line Tattoo Training Residency
Indigenous Tattoo School
As an Nlaka’pamux cultural tattoo practitioner I have had the benefit and honor of helping in the revival efforts of many Indigenous nations across Canada as I travel and share the gifts I have been given. A simple question at my Earth Line Tattooing Action at the Gallery 101 exhibition opening of “Owning with the Gaze,” in October 2015 curated by Cheryl L’Hirondelle sparked my thinking, which has manifested into the first Earth Line Tattoo Training Residency. Rachelle Dickenson asked that pivotal question as she sat and chatted with me as she received her skin stitch Earth Line. It was a simple question in the context of the conversation around my work in reviving Indigenous tattooing in Canada, “What is next?” My reply came, “I need to figure out how to teach others how to do what I do.”
Gallery 101 Earth Line Tattoo Performance
As I traveled to Aotearoa in November of last year I was absolutely floored by the amazing artists who have been working on reviving their ancestral tattooing traditions from across the globe. As I sat in the artist’s wananga which was entitled “Customary Roots- Contemporary Practice” I heard of the work being put forward by fellow cultural tattoo practitioner Maya Sialuk Jacobsen and cultural teacher and activist Holly Nordlum in their project Tupik Mi. They shared their plans to teach other Inuit women the technique of skin stitching as part of this amazing project. For more information on Tupik Mi the project and the film that is documenting this journey go check out these links.
Indigenous Ink 2015
The testimony that was shared by Maya and Holly and the other presenters including Nahaan, Elle Festin, Lawrence Ah Ching, and Keone Nunes began to kindle the fire inside me to share the gift of ancestral tattooing. My journey in Aotearoa continued to add fuel to this fire as I sat with my friend Nahaan as Turumakina Duley tattooed him at his friend Thomas Clark’s shop Matakiore Ta Moko Tattoo Studio in Auckland. As I talked with Thomas about his career he mentioned Derek Lardelli and his training at Toihoukura- School of Maori Visual Art and Design. Which is a program that teaches among many other things Ta Moko.
Nahaan Killer Whale Stands up getting tattooed
With these few experiences firmly planted in my mind I returned home from Aotearoa and in conversation with two friends of mine Amy Malbeuf and Jordan Bennett, who are both amazing Indigenous fine artists, I mentioned that I wanted to start an Indigenous tattooing school: so that I can share the knowledge that I have gained throughout my time as a cultural tattoo practitioner and scholar working in the subject area of Indigenous tattoo revival. They both enthusiastically encouraged me to do just that, and it has been with their help that I started planning and working towards the first Earth Line tattoo school.
Jordan and Amy at the opening of apihkêw
The name Earth Line Tattoo Training Residency comes from the artists collective that Jordan, Amy, and I have co-founded, The Earth Line Tattoo Collective. Our working mission statement says:
Earth Line Tattoo Collective aims to enhance, expand, and support the work of traditional and cultural Indigenous tattoo practices across Canada. The collective is comprised of a dedicated team of cultural tattoo practitioners and visual artists: Jordan Bennett (Mi’kmaq), Dion Kaszas (Nlaka’pamux), and Amy Malbeuf (Cree/Metis). Earth Line is committed to ensuring the health and safety of our communities through training and adhering to the highest standards. We are committed to ensuring the cultural safety of individuals and communities we work with through research, collaboration, design development, and creating awareness of the cultural Indigenous tattoo practices of Turtle Island.
It has been through this collaboration in conjunction with the University of British Columbia Okanagan’s Indigenous Summer Intensive and their support from Aboriginal Arts at the Canada Council of the Arts and the University of British Columbia’s Equity and Enhancement Fund that this project has been possible.
UBC Equity Fund Sponsor
As we have navigated through the development of this project and the process of gaining funding to hold this training program we have had the unbelievable mentorship of Ashok Mathur. We would further like to acknowledge the support of Stephen Foster for his support in the successful application to the Equity and Enhancement Fund.
With this background in mind let me introduce you to the project and those who will be participating in it. The following project description and expected outcomes are the narrative which lead the Equity and Enhancement Fund to support this project.
Hand Poke Nlaka’pamux Pictograph Tattoo
Project Summary and Objectives:
The fire to revive Indigenous tattooing traditions has been ignited in North America with cultural tattoo practitioners coming from Hawaii and the Pacific to help in this process. People in local communities have started tattooing without any formal training, which puts whole communities and the larger public at risk. The one thing I have learnt throughout my training as a professional tattoo artist is about the importance of knowledge and training around blood-borne pathogens and cross contamination. The development of a training program that helps to fill the gap in the need for trained professionals who can not only provide the service of assisting in the revival of tattooing traditions across Canada is one of necessity to ensure the future health of our communities and nations. Indigenous peoples in Canada need professional cultural practitioners that are trained in the design, application and health aspects of tattooing. Conducting this pilot project during the summer Indigenous residency will allow us to engage a wider Indigenous audience and solicit their feedback.
Tattooing James Luna as part of the Indigenous Summer Intensive 2015
The project objectives are to host a residency style training program that will help fulfill the need for trained cultural tattoo artist practitioners in Canada. This project will include four Indigenous fine artists that will be trained to tattoo in a cultural safe and appropriate manner. This training program will work with the four Indigenous fine artists who will in the end be qualified professional cultural practitioners that are trained in design application, cultural and spiritual safety, and the health aspects of tattooing. During this residency emphasis will be placed on health and safety with the trainees being certified in blood borne pathogens, research into each individuals cultural and ancestral tattooing tradition, cultural protocols that relate to the application and practice of tattooing in each community, and design application.
Indigenous Summer Intensive 2015
Expected Project Outcomes and benefits:
The expected outcomes include the full training of four Indigenous fine artists in the practice of traditional tattooing. We will include the practice of hand poke and skin stitch tattooing, certification in blood borne pathogens and a clear conviction of their responsibilities as cultural tattoo practitioners. The project will also deliver the development of presentations that outline safe practices and the importance of Indigenous tattoo revival. The artists will be trained on the use of online and conventional libraries and archives as well as taught how to interview elders knowledge keepers and community members so as to add knowledge of this practice in Canada. Each artist will be building an essential set of skills that will be part of the decolonization process and the healing of their respective communities in the revival of a key cultural artistic tradition and returning a practice that will strengthen individuals in their own cultural identity. Each artist will be building up a portfolio of cultural tattoos as they learn the practice, which could be exhibited as a collective of photographs, and video related artworks that document the journey of learning and healing. The lead facilitator will access this collection to support and endorse future learning opportunities. Curators and senior writers invited to the summer Indigenous residency will be invited to comment on the tattooing project as well.
Earth Line Skin Stitch Tattoo
The above described project will be a benefit to the communities that these four individuals will have the honor of serving as trained cultural tattoo practitioners. This project has the potential to benefit the healing of Indigenous individuals and communities as they go on the journey of embodying their own Indigenous identity in the form of receiving a tattoo. As described there exists a gap between the desire of Indigenous community members wanting to be tattooed and trained professionals to do such work which has begun to be filled with individuals who do not have the appropriate training and who are putting whole communities at risk. This project is seeking to fill this gap. The revival of Indigenous tattooing is not only about the revival of a tattooing tradition, it also about the rebuilding of other knowledge systems. My own Nlaka’pamux tattooing tradition is connected to a larger visual and material cultural language system, consisting of but not limited to our pictographs, designs painted on clothing and our basketry designs. The revival of Indigenous tattooing traditions is also connected to traditional ecological knowledge in the form of traditional inks, tattooing tools and ceremonies. Many traditions including my own were connected to coming of age ceremonies and other spiritual practices, it is hoped that with the revival of our tattooing traditions many other aspects of our cultures will be uplifted and strengthened including the above mentioned other knowledge systems and many others including our language revitalization efforts. This project as it seeks to uplift the knowledge surrounding traditional Indigenous tattooing strengthens individual Indigenous peoples and whole communities.
Photo Credit Wes Wilson
The four participants:
Jeneen Frei Njootli