momma white's skin stitched tattoos


my momma has been thinking about getting traditional tattoos for some time now. last month we heard from a relative that nahaan was in town speaking at the indigenous people's day celebration and was tattooing that evening. nahaan is a tlingit, inupiaq and paiute man, a language teacher, dancer, artist, poet, activist, traditional story teller, and culture-bearer. he generously made time for my momma. nahaan began her tattoos with ceremony. a song, a story, a prayer. it was a powerful occasion. my little cousin and a small group of other alaska native women gathered, sang, and drummed while nahaan stitched ink with needle and thread into my momma's skin.

momma white refers to her tattoos as beauty marks. she says they bring her closer to our ancestors. they are an outward sign of her reclamation and affirmation of our yup'ik identity. she continues to seek out and stitch into her life older and truer stories than those she's been told about who she is and who she wants to be.

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