Dot-by-dot, a tiny needle penetrates the skin with ink and carefully imprints a design.
Some symbols signify heritage. Others honor the community. Some could mark milestones in their lives with the help of an elder. These kinds of experiences and symbols are what will be shared this weekend during the Kanehsatà:ke Traditional Indigenous Tattoo Gathering.
Karonhienhawe Nicolas is the one organizing. With her children, she helped set up Friday’s event site in an abandoned apple orchard with the community. Nicholas spoke to CBC Let’s get startedSabrina Marandola of’s Sabrina Marandola said the inspiration to organize this event was after she visited a Tyendinaga Tattoo Gathering in Ontario.
Nicholas stated, “I came with my ladies group from here. And we decided that it would be nice to have it here.” It is important to keep that tradition alive before it disappears completely.
There was a time of renewal. Not only of stick-and-poke tattoos — done manually, without machines — but also of sharing and exchanging goods and services among other Indigenous communities, all while building community.
Nicholas stated, “We’ve already lost so much because colonialism,” “And it’s time to put our foot down and say, no, you can’t take everything away from us … They tried to bury us, but they didn’t know we were seeds.”
Gathering to heal and connect
This will be the first edition of the Kanehsatà:ke Traditional Indigenous Tattoo Gathering. Artists will have conversations with members of the Indigenous communities and be poking designs on skin as a way to keep the sacred flames burning.
Stacy Pepin, co-organizer of the event, wanted Stacy’s tattoo as a reminder to her as she headed off to law school.
Pepin says, “When I go back to school, I’ll have these as reminders to keep my people in my thoughts and to make sure that any injustices are not repeated.”
As Pepin intended, Nicholas and other members of the community will wear tattoos that represent their communities, just like Pepin.
Nicholas said, “It will be a bear that symbolizes my clan. Within it will be symbolic of our three sisters beans, corn and squash.”
Turtle Island’s eastern end to its western side
In Kanesatake’s former apple orchard, artists and prominent community members will be able to connect with one another beyond their personal healing journeys.
“It’s kind of like back in 1990 when our community put out a call for help across Canada, we got help from the West Coast — so they’re doing the same thing by coming here and strengthening those ties,” says Pepin.
Wet’suwet’en chief woos speak with CBC Let’s get started He stated that the visit to Kahnawake, Kanesatake would be an important step towards unifying the hereditary system.
“Our traditional government/governance that we’ve always had for many many years, that is going to be revitalized,” said Chief Woos. And I feel that this will inspire a lot interest in nations and groups when they start to join forces.
Nicholas was drawn to this event because it brought together her communities. She hopes that this event will be continued to bring people together as more Indigenous communities adopt it.
It’s something we hope will spread and keep going. If it doesn’t, we may just do it again.