Tag Archives: Tattoo

How Traditional is Tattooing?


Tyendinaga Gathering

The second annual Indigenous Tattoo Gathering in Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory took place over the May weekend. Artists and orators gathered to share ideas and culturally specific experiences. As well as their efforts to revitalize some of these ancient techniques before they welcomed the general public. 

These events are gaining popularity, but so is the evidence supporting the existence of the ancient practice. Therefore, it’s essential to continue to discover/uncover more about the Authentic History of tattooing within our respective nations.

How Traditional is Tattooing?

Tattooing refers to the permanent insertion of pigments under the skin using tools that can puncture the skin. While there is also skin painting or smearing open wounds intentionally with soot or ash for permanent discolouration, Its not the same.

Mummified remains Found in Peru

We must remember that mummified remains are scarce in North America, leaving little to the tangible archeological record.  However, studies on materials found in locations like Tsiionhiakwatha have yielded identifiable tools consistent with those only used for tattooing. 

Archaeologists found the tools at Tsiionhiakwatha in and around a minimal area within the longhouse suggesting the skills were limited to a single practitioner or a small group.

In addition, the Small area where scientists located the tools indicates the importance of the craft itself and the intimate environment within the clan family. 

Tattooing Medicine

Symbols and patterns have distinguished Onkwehonwe between clan systems, pottery, clothing and even combs. So naturally, it makes sense that Onkwehonwe would use these symbols or designs for specific purposes, including medicinal practices. 

Otzi, the 5,300-year-old iceman found at the Italy-Austria border, provided a splendid view of his 61 separate tattoos primarily placed over classic acupuncture points. Along with natural medicines found near his body, It is highly speculative that Otzi belonged to a society with advanced knowledge of Medicine.

A mummy located in Peru had two distinct types of tattooing ink, suggesting two different purposes, one quite possibly being healing and medicinal ink. In addition, Onkwehonwe used face or body painting for ceremonial or camouflage practices, so It was well within the evolutionary abilities of the inhabitants throughout North & South America to use vegetation-based dyes and pigments for therapeutic tattoos.

Talking Ink

While revitalization efforts have been taking place, nuances of the practice such as storytelling are just as important as the piece itself. However, the most interesting is the milestones, or the Messaging carried with the ink and tattoo placement.

Tattoos are a language; it’s a way to communicate,


 Identity and kinship are a significant part of many Onkwehonwe cultures, and importantly, many symbols belonged to specific clans or lineages within individual nations. This suggests one could be identified solely by their tattoos!


If you missed the Tyendinaga Tattoo Gathering, You could still catch the 1st annual Kanehsatake tattoo gathering in August.