Arts·This Ink Runs Deep

This Ink Runs Deep: How Indigenous artists 'stitch themselves back together' with ancestral tattooing

Stream the award-winning doc now on YouTube and CBC Gem.

Stream the award-winning doc now on YouTube and CBC Gem

(Aimer Films)

After winning best documentary short at the Calgary International Film Festival and being selected as part of the Short Cuts Programme at TIFF, CBC Arts presents This Ink Runs Deep now streaming on CBC Gem and worldwide on YouTube.

This Ink Runs Deep features Indigenous tattoo artists across Canada who are reviving ancestral traditions that disappeared during colonization. Through the film, directed by Asia Youngman, we learn about the practices that were thought to be lost forever, and how their revival reflects a reawakening of Indigenous identity.

The film travels across Canada to learn about the role that tattoos once played in different Indigenous cultures, how they disappeared and why they are being brought back to life. This Ink Runs Deep explores these different perspectives from across Canada as a way to offer a complete picture of the ways Indigenous tattoo artists are reviving the culture and how it is helping Indigenous peoples "stitch themselves back together."

In Haida Gwaii, tattoos were given as a way to celebrate achievements and to mark status in society. They told the story of a person's lineage. This Ink Runs Deep speaks to Kwiaahwa Jones who is helping to revive these traditions by using the traditional stick and poke method to tattoo ancestral pieces on Haida people. She believes the process of receiving a traditional tattoo helps one heal from generational trauma and root one's self in their heritage.

Kwiaahwa Jones. (Aimer Films)

Nakkita Trimble explains how colonizers took away the right to practice many Indigenous traditions, including tattooing. Now, Indigenous people are actively decolonizing themselves by bringing many of these traditions back into the forefront of their culture. Nakkita tattoos her husband's family crest across his chest. Together they raise a young daughter who they are proud will grow up knowing her ancestors' traditions and feel confident to practice them herself.

Nakkita Trimble. (Aimer Films)

Dion Kaszas explains how he felt a sense of fractured identity while growing up. He wasn't completely sure what it meant to be Indigenous. Through finding his people's ancestral tattoo tradition and helping to revive it, he has healed that fractured identity. He uses tattoos as a way to help others reclaim their Indigenous identity. By starting the Earthline Tattoo Collective and giving presentations across the country, Dion is training a new generation of traditional tattoo practitioners. We see him take on a new apprentice and teaches him the traditional stitching method, done with a needle and thread.

Dion Kaszas. (Aimer Films)

This revival is truly happening in every corner of the country as Jana Angulalik proves by flying from Iqaluit to Vancouver to share her experience as an Inuit tattoo artist. She and Audie Murray — an Indigenous tattoo artist living in Vancouver, originally from Saskatchewan — tattoo each other and compare their experiences. Jana has a traditional Inuit forehead tattoo. Receiving the tattoo helped her to connect with her Inuit identity. She has inspired others around her and now three generations of her family have the traditional tattoos. She believes the tattoos help women feel a sense of pride for where they come from.

Jana Angulalik. (Aimer Films)

Gregory Williams offers a different perspective in Haida Gwaii. He was the first Haida tattoo practitioner in over a century. He tattoos traditional designs but uses a machine in order to build on the tradition. He believes that in order for the traditions to grow they need to adapt to the times. He also believes that the designs are meant to be modified. Many tourists come into his shop and ask for Indigenous designs. Gregory explains how he treats these situations and why he believes the art should be shared. For Gregory, tattoos are about helping people heal and move forward with their lives, as he has done with the passing of his daughter.

Gregory Williams. (Aimer Films)

Stream This Ink Runs Deep on CBC Gem or worldwide on YouTube.