saturday was a joyful day for me. i joined my mom and my little cousin and women from other arctic cultures in reclaiming an indigenous experience that was shut down and nearly wiped out two centuries ago by missionaries and settler society in alaska and beyond--facial tattooing.
i waffled for months about whether to move forward with this experience. as drawn as i felt to get my chin tattooed with beautifying lines connecting me outwardly and inwardly to my ancestors and relatives, i hesitated. my fear was tied to my ongoing struggles with identity related to my mixed heritage, skin color, and my family's displacement, our physical dislocation from our native culture as well as the colonizing force of religion and dominant white culture on our relatives still in alaska. my upbringing in rural oregon with my granny, aunties, cousins, sibling, and parents, was yup’ik in culture and values. and here in this urban place, i continue to be a part of the alaska native and lower 48 native community.
my skin is white
i am french canadian too
my mother, brother, sister, cousins, nephew, have my granny's face
my skin has always been my swift river to cross
each time i sculpt, i brave the current blood quantum skin color miles from birthright
in drumming and singing, i paddle toward my ancestors
with this tattoo, i face myself
i am yup'ik
on saturday i joined my ancestors in this experience of beautification, healing, connection, and other medicine. great grandma helen in bethel and granny clara and the aunties in mcgrath did not have access to this tradition of our people. i do. so i was hand-poke tattooed by my friend nahaan, for myself and for them. my experience was powerful. we drummed together, we sang, we shared stories, and we prayed to ellam yua, the spirit of the universe. my cousin sang and drummed beautifully during the tattooing--her strong voice and song stayed with me after the ceremony and throughout the entire night of sleep. i experienced healing during my tattooing. i walked a path with my ancestors and with my relatives alive today.
nahaan, is a tlingit, inupiaq and paiute man, a language teacher, dancer, artist, poet, activist, traditional story teller, and culture-bearer. you can check out some of his good work here: killer whale stands up. i am grateful beyond words to him for his strength of character and dedication to his purpose. i have benefited from his generous spirit.
if you are interested in reading about yup'ik women's tattoos, i recommend a great master's thesis by Mariah Carillo, "transformative skin: the ongoing legacy of yup'ik and inuit women's tattoos." Carillo examines "the way cultural practices and ideas are embedded in the ever-changing connective tissue of daily experience, shifting with changing circumstances, but eternally tying the present to the past in a web of ongoing negotiation."
i also took my newly finished sculpture, "owl and lemming: dependent arising" to Two Ravens Studio foundry on saturday for bronze casting. i met the owners and operators, Ed Kroupa and Katrina Toft--great people. see Ed's work here... i especially love his public work "floating life forms" made up of 6 stylized bronze buoy balls reflecting the interdependence of the natural and the man-made world. my "owl and lemming: dependent arising" is also a work on interdependence. the concept easily marries my yup'ik understanding of the world and my vajrayana buddhist practice. it is an acknowledgement of the interdependence of all beings and honors those upon whose backs we human people ride to survive. the lemming is scaled larger than the owl to show its equal importance in their interrelationship. the traditional yup’ik hand (outstretched owl foot/tail) with the center eye signifies the cyclical emergence of all beings to this realm. if one exists, the other exists, if one ceases to exist the other ceases to exist. there is nothing independent.
i'm excited that this piece will be finished and ready to take to the santa fe indian market in santa fe this august.