Sunday, July 22, 2018

Thoughts on tattoos

Have you ever noticed how many Indigenous people and/or African Canadian or Americans are tattooed? Have you ever wondered why? Here are the thoughts of one who has lived in both worlds - white and Indigenous.

Turn on CNN or Fox or NBC or any major American network and spend 30 minutes witnessing their values, their hopes and their dreams. What you will soon come to see is that the vast majority of advertisements deal with "how to best save for your old age" or "how to extend your life"..."how to give your earnings to those who can spend them in your best interest". Almost everything you'll see deals with your dreaming of tomorrow, not today (and that sadly includes so much of religion).

A tattoo? How will it look when you are 94? If someone sees you tattooed, what will they think? Does a tattoo not mean that you are not living your life based on the common norms of living for tomorrow and not for today.

As a white person (I lived 44 years not knowing I was Metis), I spent my energies planning for the future. Pensions aside, I had a ten year plan, a five and a one year plan. As a principal, I had a monthly, weekly and daily plan. I had professional and personal plans. Heck, I had plans for those around me who didn't seem to have their own plans.

And then, my Grandmother came to me. Then, I came to see that I should turn around and swim downstream...rather than fighting my way upstream for whatever reason - education, money or ego, I learned to swim downstream and I allowed her the control that would make my life whole.

I quit my job and did that which I was meant to do - I began storytelling. That was 20 years ago. I turned myself over to my Grandmother (genetic direction) in all I do and in everything I am. And it's been good.

How does all this apply to tattoos?

Well, we Indigenous people tend to be storytellers. Through whatever means, be it art or music or sharing story as I do, we believe in and love stories. We use them to teach, to heal and to pray. Few will argue that tattoos are stories.

Secondly, no one knows, least alone me, how long I will live. To plan my holidays or where I will live or to plan my future on the assumption that I will be here for however long seems absurd. At the age of 64, I have watched my kids get inked. I am watching the youth I work with get inked. And I am seeing people of all ages and professions telling their stories through ink. And I liked it. Who better to get tattooed than a professional story teller?

The b&w showing above is my left arm. I thought out and planned and carefully selected an artist for each of the three. Each tells a story.

This summer, I am celebrating my writings and my books. With the help of tattoo artist Brian Dangerfield (and don't kid yourself...most of these tattoo artists are exactly that, artists who are aware of the impact they are having on their living canvasses) I am getting tattoed. We are using ideas and images taken from my book The Journal of Etienne Mercier, specifically my Raven Clement perched on a Haida canoe.

Simply put: fun!