Taking Nlaka’pamux Tattooing to the World

My name is Dion Kaszas I have been at the forefront of the revival of Indigenous tattooing since 2010, through, writing, research, teaching and practicing skin stitch and hand poke tattooing. I have spent considerable time over the past seven to eight years sharing my knowledge with the larger Indigenous community in Canada. As co-founder of the Earthline Tattoo collective alongside my friends and colleagues Jordan Bennett and Amy Malbeuf. I have work as lead facilitator of the Earthline Tattoo Training Residency for three of its four manifestations and worked as co-curator for the “Body Language” exhibition at the Bill Reid Gallery among many other projects. 

Photo by Tia Clearsky of Whaea Productions

This past year I felt a pull to begin giving back to my Nlaka’pamux community, which lead me to develop a three year long term project grant proposal which was submitted to the Canada Council of the Arts in June of 2019. The title of this project is “Taking Nlaka’pamux Tattooing to the World.” In October of 2019 I was informed that I received this grant and am excited to begin the journey of undertaking the many overlapping projects associated with this gracious gift. 

In my grant proposal I state that, the vision for this project begins with three goals. The first broad goal is to dive deeper into the visual and material culture of my Nlaka’pamux artistic tradition to expand my knowledge. Secondly, it allows me time to transform the knowledge I will acquire and already possess into formats that I can share with my ancestral community and others and pass onto the coming generations, including but not limited to written resource materials, audio, and visual materials and the application of our ancestral artistic art form of tattooing in new and innovative ways.  Finally, I hope one of the outcomes of this project is expanding awareness and interest in Nlaka’pamux and Interior Salish aesthetics, by creating artistic works that highlight our visual language and develop a broader international audience.  

The research undertaken as part of this grant will lead to two outcomes that will uplift and enhance my artistic practice and the artistic and visual language of my nation. First, the creation of the Nlaka’pamux visual dictionary that displays and articulates our understanding of historic and contemporary designs and motifs. Secondly, as I understand and am exposed to more of my ancestral visual language, I will gain a greater capacity to translate this language to the human body and enhance the revival of our tattooing tradition. 

I will endeavour to begin translating Nlaka’pamux visual language to the landscape of the human body in ways that have never been attempted before, I will be pushing our embodied artistic practice of tattooing into the contemporary world. This is an evolution of Nlaka’pamux tattooing, and it will create a new genre of tribal tattooing for the coming generations of Nlaka’pamux tattoo artists and cultural practitioners. In documenting my process and journey, I will also be leaving footprints for Indigenous peoples from other nations who would like to take a similar journey and innovate and create new embodied artistic practices.  

Through relearning how to make bone tools and traditional inks I will be able to pass this gift of knowledge to my Nlaka’pamux community and the community of cultural tattoo practitioners across Turtle Island. This knowledge will enable the use our traditional handmade tools in our ceremonial tattooing practices and important community cultural events. 

Canadian Museum of History Inuit Bone Needle

By traveling to international tattooing conventions with a finely crafted display highlighting the work undertaken during this grant, I will be exposing the larger contemporary tattoo community to the art of my ancestors. By transitioning from a typical tattoo artist who tattoos anything that comes in the door, I will demonstrate an Indigenous ethic of community responsibility via the relationships I have with artists from nations that are not my own. Through creating only from the visual vocabulary that is connected to my genealogy, I can assert and communicate the issues around cultural appropriation in tattooing.  This also pushes forward the issue of Indigenous embodied artistic practices being practiced by Indigenous peoples.

I have to acknowledge the continued support and encouragement of Margo Tamez who always takes the time to assist with my many written pieces and proposals. I am also indebted to Angela Clyburn for here assistance with editing and revising this grant application. Finally I am also very grateful to Amy Malbeuf for her assistance in editing and revising and envisioning many parts of this proposal. Without the love and support of my lovely wife Jayne Kaszas I would not be able to do the work that I do.

Over the next five weeks I will share with you the five overlapping projects that I have proposed as part of “Taking Nlaka’pamux Tattooing to the World.” Each Saturday morning before noon Atlantic time I will post a weekly blog post, the first five weeks will share with you what each project will be and as the weeks go on I will keep you updated as the grant unfolds. 

See you next week.

I acknowledge the support of the Canada Council for the Arts.

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