Lessons From my Journey into the Revival of Indigenous Tattooing

I have had the most amazing two weeks working with and alongside the amazing artists Jordan Bennett, Jeneen Frei Njootli, Amy Malbeuf and Dean Hunt as we share our collective knowledge. This project is an outgrowth of my efforts to share my knowledge about traditional tattooing methods, the health aspects around tattooing and the power of tattoo revival.

There is a rock shelter that contains pictographs in the Stein River Valley that stands as a metaphor for my journey into understanding who I am.

Longing to belong


I used to feel a huge sense of disconnection from my ancestral community due in large part to the symbolic violence enacted on my family through the Indian Act. This disconnection for me is symbolized by standing on the outside of this rock shelter looking into my culture and longing for connection.

Looking out from within


I shared the Stein River Valley with the artists attending the Earth Line Tattoo Training Residency this past week, we hiked over 30 kilometers and explored the land that my ancestors traveled. As we sat inside the rock shelter pictured above I shared that the research I have done related to tattooing and the work I have done in my ancestral community of Merritt is what has begun to transform my feelings of disconnection to feelings of re-connection and re-membering.

Reviving Back Home


One of the greatest honours for me on this tattoo revival journey has been when I was invited to travel back home and tattoo in my own territory, sharing my gift with people from my nation. There are no words to explain the feelings I had as I applied my first Nlaka’pamux skin stitch facial tattoo on Molly Toodlican at the first of many tattooing sessions planned in Merritt, British Columbia. This event was organized by elder and language teacher Mandy Jimmie.

Skin Stitch Tattoo


Revival of our Facial Tattooing


Skin Stitch Tattooing


It was an intense and exciting experience, one that I will never forget as I tattooed in the Nicola Valley among the mountains, the rivers, the sage brush, and trees which have sustained my ancestors for generations. I was tattooing Sue Sterling-Bur, Molly and Andrea Sterling-Shintah in the staff room at the Nicola Valley Institute of Technology which has huge windows that I would occasionally look out and soak in the landscape, I found another piece of myself as an Nlaka’pamux person through this experience.

The joy of Revival


Hand Poke Tattoo


This journey into tattoo revival is one that is exciting, challenging and scary as I move forward, and these feelings describe the experience of sharing my research at the Nlaka’pamux Rock Art Conference which was held in Lytton, British Columbia. This was my first public presentation about my work in my nation and this event was attended by many of the chiefs from my nation, which is where my apprehension came from. I was delighted and encouraged as elders and community members came to speak with me and ask how they can get tattooed. In the introduction to my presentation I shared these words:

“I would like to express my thankfulness for the gifts, talents and          opportunities the creator has given me in being able to do what I do. As a Bill C-31 member of the Lower Nicola Indian Band I began the exploration of our tattooing practices out of curiosity to begin with and then as a way to begin to learn about the things that I had been denied the ability to learn in community due to the legislative violence enacted upon me and my family by the Indian Act. It is through this exploration that I have begun to feel a sense of belonging and a sense of being complete because I am finally beginning to find out who I am and where I come from. With this being said I am not standing in front of you as an expert on Nlaka’pamux tattooing or rock art but, as a person sharing their journey with you in hopes that together we can ensure that our nieces, nephews, children, grandchildren and great grandchildren do not have the same struggles as we did and do.”

Nlaka’pamux Rock Art Conference


During my time sharing with the artists involved in the Earth Line Tattoo Training Residency and when I speak or write about my work related to Indigenous tattoo revival I always endeavor to speak from my own experience and share from this place.

I know that I still have a lot to learn about my culture and my responsibilities as I continue in this journey of life and am excited to see what comes next. This post started out as an update on the Tattoo Training Residency but has turned into a much needed sharing of my experiences as a tool for teaching concerning the importance of tattoo revival and the re-membering of diasporic peoples to our nations and communities. It is through my gifts from the creator, the community members and my family who have supported me that I am able to do what I do.

I also know that it is through our collective efforts that we will make this world a better place for the coming generations and this is why I strive every day to be better, to decolonize, to re-vive, and to re-member. I do these things so that my niece and nephews, and younger cousins can be more secure in who they are as Nlaka’pamux.

Stay tuned for more information on the next tattoo session in Merritt and for the next instalment about the Earth Line Tattoo Training Residency.

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