Ruth Hopkins: Tribes maintain a long tradition of tattooing

Michele Yatchmeneff displays traditional Unangax facial tattoos. Photo from Purdue University

Ruth Hopkins shares the rich tradition of tribal tattooing:
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. Thankfully, genocide was unsuccessful and Native Nations remain, along with their languages, customs, belief systems, and rich heritages. As Native people begin to return to their traditional ways, we are starting to see a resurgence of the ancient art of tattooing.

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. Algonquin, Niitsitapi (Blackfoot), Cherokee, Chippewa, Choctaw, Commanche, Cree, Creek, Crow, Haida, Haudenosaunee (Iroquois), Kiowa, Mandan, Nimíipuu (Nez Perce), Osage, Pawnee, Pima, Ponca, Tlingit, Winnebago and others all wore tattoos. They had meaning. Some were considered necessary for travel to the spirit world.

My Tribe practiced tattooing as well. The Dakota of the Oceti Sakowin (Great Sioux Nation) often adorned their flesh with ink. The most common tattoos we wore were on the wrist or forehead. These identifiers gave our ancestors the ability to recognize us as belonging to the Dakota after we died.

Get the Story:
Ruth Hopkins: Tats Incredible: The Revival of Indigenous Ink (Indian Country Today 11/15)

Join the Conversation