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path of the ancestors, path of my relatives: facial markings

May 29, 2018

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.