Montreal

Tattoo gathering in Kanesatake hopes to revitalize tradition and nation-to-nation connections

Beyond the personal journeys of healing and connection, the gathering in Kanesatake's old apple orchard will welcome not only artists from across Turtle Island, but prominent community members like the Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs.

Over 100 community members expected for weekend of healing and connection

Sign that reads Kanehsata:ke Indigenous tattoo gathering
The first edition of the Kanehsatà:ke Traditional Indigenous Tattoo Gathering will run until Sunday at the heart of the community. (Submitted by Stacey Pepin)

Dot by dot, a small needle pierces the skin with ink, carefully etching a design.

Some symbols represent heritage. Others honour the community. And some could even mark achievements made in one's lifetime with designs chosen by an elder. These kinds of experiences and symbols are what will be shared this weekend during the Kanehsatà:ke Traditional Indigenous Tattoo Gathering.

Karonhienhawe Nicholas is one of the organizers. She and her kids spent Friday helping set up the event's site with her community in an old apple orchard. Nicholas told CBC Let's Go's Sabrina Marandola that the decision to hold this event came after visiting a tattoo gathering in Tyendinaga, in Ontario.

"I attended with my group of ladies from here and we decided that we would like to have it here," said Nicholas. "It is to bring back that tradition before it dies out completely yet."

From there came an event of revitalization. Not only of stick-and-poke tattoos — done manually, without machines — but also of sharing and exchanging goods and services among other Indigenous communities, all while building community.

"We've lost so many things already due to colonialism," said Nicholas. "And it's time to put our foot down and say, no, you can't take everything away from us … They tried to bury us, but they didn't know we were seeds."

A gathering to connect and heal

This will be the first edition of the Kanehsatà:ke Traditional Indigenous Tattoo Gathering. As a firekeeper tends to the sacred flames, artists will be in conversation with Indigenous community members, poking intricate designs onto skin throughout the weekend.

A woman gives a traditional tattoo to another woman.
Artists will be in conversation with Indigenous community members, poking intricate designs onto skin throughout the weekend. ( Kanehsatà:ke Traditional Indigenous Tattoo Gathering 2022/Facebook)

Co-organizer Stacy Pepin wanted her tattoo to serve as a personal reminder as she heads off to law school this year.

"When I do go to school I'll see these on my fingers as a reminder to pursue my career with my people on my mind, and make sure any injustices I face aren't repeated," says Pepin.

Similar to Pepin's intentions behind her tattoo, other community members, like Nicholas, will proudly don symbols of their clan and community, while sharing this ancient tradition.

"It's going to be a little bear symbolizing my clan and within it will be symbolizing our three sisters corn, beans and squash," said Nicholas.

Two women smile at the camera.
Stacey Pepin, right, and Karonhienhawe Nicholas, left, spent their Friday setting up the event with friends and family. (Submitted by Stacey Pepin)

From one end of Turtle Island to the other

Beyond the personal journeys of healing and connection, the gathering in Kanesatake's old apple orchard will welcome not only artists from across Turtle Island, but prominent community members like the Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs.

"It's kind of like back in 1990 when our community put out a call for help across Canada, we got help from the West Coast — so they're doing the same thing by coming here and strengthening those ties," says Pepin.

Wet'suwet'en hereditary Chief Woos spoke with CBC's Let's Go and said the visits to Kahnawake and Kanesatake will be a step in uniting the hereditary system.

"Our traditional government/governance that we've always had for many many years, that is going to be revitalized," said Chief Woos. "And I think that will spark a lot of interest when groups, nations, start to come together."

For Nicholas, she felt called to help organize this event in her community, which in turn brought communities together. And she hopes this gathering will continue to do so as other Indigenous communities adopt it in future editions.

"It's something that we really hope spreads and keeps going. And if not, if it goes without a hitch, we might just consider doing it again.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Shahroze Rauf

Journalist

Shahroze Rauf is a journalist based in Montreal, originally from Toronto. You can contact him at Shahroze.Rauf@cbc.ca for tips and story ideas.

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