Yukoners reclaim culture through traditional Tlingit tattooing

·1 min read
Kwanlin Dün citizen Anne Spice taught eight Yukon women about Tlingit tattooing at the Kwanlin Dün Cultural Centre on Wednesday. (Maya Lach-Aidelbaum/CBC - image credit)
Kwanlin Dün citizen Anne Spice taught eight Yukon women about Tlingit tattooing at the Kwanlin Dün Cultural Centre on Wednesday. (Maya Lach-Aidelbaum/CBC - image credit)

Eight brave Yukoners put needle to skin, many for the first time, as part of a Tlingit tattoo workshop at the Kwanlin Dün Cultural Centre, this past week.

For workshop leader Anne Spice, the event Wednesday was an opportunity to reintegrate Tlingit tattooing as a cultural practice in Whitehorse.

"[Tattooing] is a very old practice for a lot of Indigenous peoples," Spice said.

But many Indigenous peoples have been cut off from traditional tattooing practices due to colonial policies like the potlatch ban.

Spice said that means there aren't many visual documentations of Indigenous tattoos.

Maya Lach-Aidelbaum/CBC
Maya Lach-Aidelbaum/CBC

"It's been a number of generations since we saw tattoos actually being practiced more often," she said.

But she said she's starting to see a shift toward more Indigenous people getting traditional tattoos.

"I think it's a way to connect and it's a way to also show pride in your own ancestry and where we are coming from," Spice said.

Maya Lach-Aidelbaum/CBC
Maya Lach-Aidelbaum/CBC

During the workshop, Spice taught eight Indigenous participants how to create hand-poked tattoos using a needle and ink.

Kalina Benoit, one of the participants, tattooed a red ring around her sister-in-law's wrist. It was her first time giving someone a tattoo.

Maya Lach-Aidelbaum/CBC
Maya Lach-Aidelbaum/CBC

"I'm comfortable with needles though – I'm a nurse," she laughed.

"It's actually a bit easier than I thought it was going to be and a lot less painful than I thought it was going to be."

Benoit said it was a powerful bonding experience, different from getting tattooed using a machine.

"We both have a lot of tattoos, so this is the first for us as well, getting a hand-poked tattoo. So it's special."

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