Nlaka’pamux Ancestral Bone Tool Research

January 20th to 24th I spent in Ottawa in the collections of the Canadian Museum of History, I am thankful and grateful to the staff that assisted me in both the ethnology and Archaeology departments.  And on January 13th of 2020, I had a Skype meeting with Aaron Deter-Wolf where he shared with me the work and research he has done around the creation of bone hand poke tools. I am very thankful Aaron took the time to spent an hour with me and the time to send me a step by step of his process. I can already tell that this grant is going have a huge impact on the revival of our embodied artistic traditions.

Aaron Deter-Wolf during our Skype meetings holding a piece of bone

I am just going to briefly share some of the photos I took while at the Canadian Museum of History. This trip had two intentions, the first was to be able to see some of the patterns and articles that carry those patterns in person, to be able to physical walk around them and see the movement across physical space. Which is allowing me to envision how our visual language can be fit to the human body. The second reason was to look at the beautifully crafted bone tools made by Nlaka’pamux but also other nations who used bone to make sewing needles. I was so impressed with the skill of the craft people who made some of the tools I was privileged to see. 

Earthline Morning Star Cape

Many of the pieces I was able to look at from my nation are pieces I have admired for a long time and have been inspirational and have food their way onto Nlaka’pamux bodies.  The piece that comes to mind instantly is this robe which I used as inspiration for a skin stitch tattoo on my sister. 

Fine Nlaka’pamux Bone Tools

In the next couple of weeks I will share photos and the story of visiting Vancouver to check out the Museum of Anthropology at UBC Vancouver and then Victoria to visit the Royal BC Museum.  

Stay tuned as I continue this journey. 

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

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Indigenous Tattoo Artist Convention and Tattoo Festival Travel

This is the final pillar of my long term project grant I have been awarded through The Canada Council for the Arts, I am so humbled to be awarded this grant.

First International Convention in 2015 Indigenous Ink

As I continue to create and build on the lessons I have learned in the past I am hoping to share with more and more people the passion I have for Indigenous tattooing. I will be accomplishing this through traveling to tattoo festivals and tattoo conventions which will exposes my work to a larger audience than I can reach in my local region. These events are an invaluable opportunity to meet cultural tattoo practitioners and Indigenous tattoo artists from across the globe. The work we do as cultural revivalists and Indigenous tattoo artists is very isolating without colleagues and mentors being close geographically. Traveling to these types of events allows for networking and the sharing of ideas and concerns associated with the work we do. The exposure of our traditional tattooing practices is another important part of the reason to travel to conventions and festivals. Another important reason for Indigenous cultural tattoo practitioners and tattoo artists to be at these events is so we can accurately represent our ancestral traditions and expose non-Indigenous artists who are appropriating our designs and tattooing traditions.

My favourite Beverage when traveling in Aotearoa

Beyond the aforementioned reasons to travel to conventions and festivals is the promotion and highlighting of Nlaka’pamux Blackwork. Over the course of the three-year project, I hope to travel to six international tattoo conventions and/or festivals to continue moving the appreciation of Nlaka’pamux Blackwork tattooing into the world. The artwork and tattooing of Northwest Coast Indigenous peoples are well known across the globe. I hope to bring similar awareness to our ancestral artistic traditions. I also would like to be able to transition my cultural practice to a full-time art making endeavour, and, to be able to do this, I will need to continually move my skills, aesthetic realities, and work out into the larger world. I hope to travel to two international conventions each of the three years.

I will also be using this grant to develop and curate a mini exhibition that will travel with me to tattoo conventions. This mini exhibition will contain sketches and painted canvases of the bodysuits, sleeves, and back and chest pieces as well as historic documentation and photos of the finished bodysuits once they are done or partially done. I will also use funds from this grant to rent three tattoo booth spaces at each convention, one for tattooing and the other two to display the mini exhibition.

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

The Creation and Presentation of Nlaka’pamux Blackwork

In my last post outlining this exciting project dated December 3rd, 2019 I stated that I would be exploring the travel I would be doing during this project to conventions and tattoo festivals. I just realized it would not make sense for me to explore that portion of my project without first presenting Nlaka’pamux Blackwork first. 

Nlaka'pamux Blackwork Chest Tattoo
First Nlaka’pamux Blackwork Design. Chest piece.

I am excited to present to you my vision for the innovation of Nlaka’pamux visual language in the form of the creation of Nlaka’pamux Blackwork. The experience of tattooing for ten years, being a leader in the revival of Indigenous tattooing in Canada since 2012, and mentoring over twenty Indigenous people to bring back tattooing in their communities has led me to consider what more I can do for the world of tattooing. A further outcome of this research and grant is my answer to this question. This grant will allow me the time to translate Nlaka’pamux visual language into the creation of Nlaka’pamux tattoo bodysuits, full sleeves, back and chest pieces. Body suits are tattoos that cover the entire body or at least the entire torso. Research would include an exploration of how our visual language can be stretched to fit the curvature and movement of the human form. The result will be an innovation through the creation of a contemporary interpretation of Nlaka’pamux tattooing that mixes aesthetics from historic Japanese and contemporary tribal and blackwork tattooing genres. I will not be using Japanese motifs or designs, only the aesthetic of the complete coverage of the body with a tattoo. Blackwork tattooing is a contemporary style of tattooing that uses big sections of black in its designs. The aesthetic components from this genre of tattooing will ensure that Nlaka’pamux Blackwork body suits and designs can be read from across the room. 

First Exploration of Nlaka’pamux Blackwork Done in 2015.

IOTA Institute provided funding and support for the third Earthline Tattoo Training Residency held in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Earthline’s connection with IOTA spurred an interest in me to begin exploring the idea of my contemporary Nlaka’pamux tattooing practice and its relationship to Bio Art. My work and research up to this point has been acutely focused on traditional Nlaka’pamux tattooing and its revival. This move to the creation of Nlaka’pamux Blackwork will allow me the time to consider new questions. Questions, like how does the reality of Indigenous peoples, who live in politicized bodies enter into contemporary Indigenous tattooing? What role, if any does, Indigenous tattooing entering into the academic conversation around, “Body Projects”? Simply put, “Body Projects” are contemporary individuals manipulations of their bodies to fit idealized standards set through advertising and the consumer culture. The curatorial mentorship of IOTA Institute would allow me to explore questions like these and more as a by-product of the creation of Nlaka’pamux Blackwork and development of my contemporary tattooing practice. 

The creation of Nlaka’pamux Blackwork as an innovation and evolution of Nlaka’pamux tattooing is an answer to the question; how do we share this ancestral, cultural embodied artistic practice with those who are not Nlaka’pamux? I have been considering this question for a long time as I have been asked to share the tattoo revival work I have been involved in. I feel that transforming the use of our visual language into a contemporary tattoo aesthetic is moving in the right direction. This will allow me to continue the work of reviving our tattooing tradition while at the same time creating a new manifestation of what once was. It is an evolution of my own personal protocol on who can get what tattooed using our designs and motifs. It will also allow me to honor the revival of our ancestral tradition and allow it to blossom in community and not be threatened by its use outside the community context. This will be accomplished by leaving historic designs in the traditional placement for community members and the development of Nlaka’pamux Blackwork for use within or outside of the community.  The Maori have developed similar practices to keep some designs, motifs, placements, and combinations of designs reserved for Maori. Kirituhi is a whole genre of Maori tattooing that has been created for non-Maori to enjoy the aesthetic properties of Moko without sharing the most sacred parts. 

Traditional Nlaka’pamux Skin Stitch and Handpoke Tattoos

I have shared the project I am describing in this grant with the IOTA Institute, who has expressed interest in supporting my work. One potential idea that has been explored is IOTA hosting me for a residency to offer uninterrupted and focused time and space to explore, experiment and create. The support they have also expressed interest in is support in the promotion and dissemination of research outcomes from this project.  

During the beginning exploratory phases of this process, I will be posting ideas, drafts, and potential bodysuits to social media to incite interest in the potential of this new embodied Nlaka’pamux Blackwork tattoo genre. I have begun the potential recruitment of collaborators willing to be tattooed with Nlaka’pamux Blackwork for this project and have gained considerable interest. 

Second Nlaka’pamux Blackwork Chest Piece Design.

I will be creating six bodysuit designs, ten full sleeve designs, five back pieces and five chest pieces. These designs will be drawn and or painted on life size canvases and or mannequins. After I have created these designs, I will be working with those community members already committed to receiving Nlaka’pamux Blackwork tattoos and will be putting a call out for further collaborators who will have these bodysuits tattooed upon them. 

Over the course of this project, I would like to tattoo at least four bodysuits, four sleeves, and two each of the chest and back pieces. If you re interested in receiving a Nlaka’pamux Blackwork tattoo, send me a email at

Beginning with the research, designing, and creation of these bodysuits, I will have a professional videographer document the process from beginning to end. The documentation of creation, the finished paintings, and/or mannequins will be edited, and stills will be captured in combination with full size photographs of each bodysuit to create an exhibition. There is also the possibility of finishing tattooing one of the body suits during the exhibition itself, this would involve having one of the collaborators/ tattooees receiving the bodysuit at the exhibition. Large format photographs of each of the bodysuits, sleeves, and chest and back pieces will be part of this exhibition alongside the canvas paintings and sketches from the creation process, as well as the mannequins. An edited video will be included in this exhibition including interviews from each of the collaborators and myself exploring the project and the rational for developing Nlaka’pamux Blackwork. 

I do not have a gallery or exhibition space set for this exhibition but will be seeking our a space during the final stages of this project. 

Through a residency and curatorial mentorship with IOTA Institute there is the potential to begin a research component of this project that explores alternative ways of viewing the “design.” In many exhibitions and displays of tattoos and tattooing, the embodied subject, the human being who wears the tattoo, “design,” is disembodied. I have had preliminary conversation with Mireille Bourgeois about my new work and its potential to start new conversations that have not been explored from an Indigenous perspective and or through tattooing. 

Thank you for taking the time to explore this exciting project with me. 

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

Dion Kaszas Nova Scotia Tattoo Artist Portfolios

I moved to Nova Scotia in 2018 and am excited to be working at HFX Tattoo in Halifax. I do a wide variety of tattoos but am most known for my work using the traditional techniques of handpoke and skin stitch. I have decided to consolidate my tattoo artist website and Indigenous Tattooing blog to this one location. I will be slowly migrating everything here over the following weeks. 

I have just updated this site with two portfolio pages, the first one includes examples of tattoos done using a tattoo machine and the second includes traditional tattoos done using handpoke and skin stitch. In my tattoo machine portfolio you will find examples of my Blackwork, Tribal, Ornamental, Dotwork, Black and grey, color and watercolor tattoos and I have just added a few examples of the cover-up work that I do. I am excited to tackle almost any project, send me a message so we can book you in for your next tattoo.

I am always humbled and honoured to be able to do the work that I do in reviving the ancestral tattooing traditions of Turtle Island. I wish to thank each and every one of my clients from the past ten years for your trust and confidence. You will find examples of the traditional face tattoos I have done, and handpoke and skin stitch tattoos. Check out my portfolios, like and share the ones that resonate with you and then drop me a line so we can book you in.

I have been tattooing for 10 years and am excited to see what the next ten years brings. 

You can navigate to each portfolio from the vertical menu above or click on of these links.

Traditional Nlaka’pamux Bone Tattoo Tools and Ink

Researching and Creating Traditional Bone Tools and Ink

Example of Cree Tattooing Tools

This is the third of five overlapping projects that my long Term Project Grant from the Canada Council for the Arts will support. If you missed the first two go check them out in my blog timeline.

Since I first read about the traditional tools and inks we as Nlaka’pamux used, I have yearned to devote a considerable amount of time to researching and experimenting with the creation of bone tools and traditional inks. The reason I have not done this yet is the amount of experimentation and time it will take to ensure sterile practices are clearly defined, because of the health of tattoo recipients is paramount. There are cultural tattoo practitioners from Polynesia, specifically Hawaii and Samoa who still use bone tools and traditional inks, combined with sterilization practices that prevent infection and the spread of contagious diseases.

There will be three phases to the research. The first is visits to museum collections that house bone tools from across the Indigenous world. I am most interested in collections that have bone stitch needles. The Canadian Museum of History has some beautiful examples of fine Dorset needles and Nlaka’pamux needles which I can visit when I am engrossed in the phase of my project related to Nlaka’pamux visual language. 

Skin Stitch Tattooing with Metal Needle

 The next phase of this research will include visiting with practitioners who make and use bone tools in their current tattooing practice. The first person I will visit with is the Hawaiian cultural tattoo practitioner Keone Nunes in Hawaii to learn how the Hawaiians fashion their bone hand tap tools. The way these tools are crafted will give insight into how to work with bone as a medium for tattoo tool making. The second thing I hope to learn is how the Hawaiians make their traditional inks. I do know what we used for the pigment of our tattoo inks but need to research what might have been the binder, so in visiting Keone I will gain a greater sense of how traditional inks are made. One of the important things I am interested in is the process that Keone and his students use to sterilize and clean their tattooing tools and inks. Keone has developed a method of sterilization that keeps the integrity of the bone but still sterilizes it well enough to pass health inspections.

Keone Holding Traditional Tools

The archaeologist Aaron Deter-Wolfe has published numerous articles on traditional bone tools and has been experimenting with bone needles for over ten years. Aaron is another person who I will collaborate with to explore his research and learn everything I can about the techniques he has developed for working with bone tools from North America. Aaron has indicated that he is excited to share his knowledge via scheduled Skype or video conference meetings over the course of this grant. In meeting with Aaron, I will gain a greater depth of knowledge of the archaeological record dealing with bone tools and also possibly get a few leads on important examples, especially of stitch needles.

Archeologist Aaaron Deter-Wolfe

I will then experiment with a variety of techniques to fashion the bone needles and learn how to extract the sinew from the spine of a deer for the thread. After I have perfected the fashioning of our traditional tools, I will move onto developing a set of procedures and protocols for collecting the medicinal plants we used for our inks. This will be a careful phase of experimentation coupled with development of sterile procedures for the processing of our traditional inks and tools. 

Once I have been able to relearn the traditional skills and successfully combined them with contemporary sterilization practices and standards, I will be able to pass this knowledge onto the coming generations. I will be documenting this whole process using digital film so as to have the footage available for the creation of multi-media installations in a physical gallery or a virtual gallery in the future and allow for educational applications. 

See you next week as we explore the fourth project that this grant will support, travel to conventions and festivals.

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