For Indigenous artist, tattooing is a way to heal others

GoodHeart Tattoo is pretty hidden on Carry the Kettle Nakoda Nation, but Jonas Thomson's basement studio is frequented by 2,000 clients. His customers — Indigenous and non-Indigenous — come from across Canada, and as far as Ukraine and Chile.

Jonas Thomson runs studio out of home on Carry the Kettle Nakoda Nation

Jonas Thomson often puts loud music during his sessions to create an inspiring vibe. (Adnan Mohamad/SRC)

From the outside of Jonas Thomson's house on Carry the Kettle Nakoda Nation, little reveals that it is home to a colourful tattoo shop. 

GoodHeart Tattoo is pretty hidden, 100 kilometres east of Regina, but Thomson's basement studio is frequented by 2,000 clients. His customers — Indigenous and non-Indigenous — come from across Canada, and as far as Ukraine and Chile.

Thomson always draws the tattoos he wants to create, before inking them permanently. (Adnan Mohamad/on Carry the Kettle First Nation)

The studio's walls are covered in movie and rockstar posters: Kurt Cobain, Bob Marley. Between them hang Indigenous symbols, to make sure Thomson is constantly surrounded by imagery representing his culture, beliefs and roots.

''I like these symbols. They represent who I am, where I'm from," he said.

When he started tattooing about 10 years ago, Thomson didn't really know what he was doing.

''It was a lot of self-teaching; I experimented different things."

A way to heal people

Thomson has toyed with different styles in his career, but specializes in tattooing Indigenous symbols.

"I dig real deep into what they want and heal them in that way and kinda give them some sort of therapy," he said.

Thomson decided to build his tattoo shop, GoodHeart Tattoo, at home on Carry The Kettle First Nation. (Patrick Foucault/SRC)

On this day, Tara Thomson is getting her second tattoo from Jonas. This one represents missing and murdered Indigenous girls and women.

"To be known that they're out there, that they're missing or being taken, we don't know where they are, it's a true loss not only to the families but also to the people as well," she said.

After an hour of work, Tara’s tattoo is done. (Patrick Foucault/SRC)

The tattoo is of a dancing woman. She wears a red dress that symbolizes the missing and murdered Indigenous girls and women. An eagle flies over her, which is a symbol of strength and peace.

Many stories inked on the skin

Years of addictions, prostitution and abuse are depicted in nine tattoos on Shawna Oochoo's body.

Widely invested in the North Central neighborhood of Regina, this Indigenous mother is mostly known for her role as program co-ordinator for White Pony Lodge, a grassroots organization helping people in need.

Shawna Oochoo has nine tattoos and is planning on getting more. (Adnan Mohamad/SRC)

Although she shows a lot of strength of character and she wants to help the most people possible, Oochoo had to fight her own demons for a long time.

''For some reasons, I just couldn't break away from the alcohol or the drugs," she said.

One of Oochoo's more visible tattoos. (Adnan Mohamad/SRC)

One of Oochoo's most visible tattoos is a bear inked on her chest and neck, a tattoo visible enough so that ''people easily see for the outside who I really am in the inside."

About 10 years ago, Oochoo decided to change her life for her own good and for her young daughter, Serenity. Oochoo met with an elder who gave her, after a traditional ceremony, the ceremonial name Pimohsé Mahkwa Ihkwé. It means Walking Bear Woman, which is inscribed on one of her tattoos.

Another of her tattoos shows bear paws, which connect her bear tattoo to the back of her ear.

"It's to remind myself that my heart is always connected to my mind," she said.

Oochoo's ceremonial name is Pimohsé Mahkwa Ihkwé, which means Walking Bear Woman. (Adnan Mohamad/SRC)

Covering up her scars

Although Oochoo's tattoos represents her numerous life experiences, she also wishes to put her years of struggles behind her.

''At one point, I was dealing with a lot of suicide in my life," said Oochoo, including her father and daughter.

''I think I stopped counting after eight suicides close to me.''

She also tried to commit suicide. She was abusing medication and was cutting herself.

She decided to do a tattoo to cover up these scars. What is seen in the tattoo varies depending on how people look at it. From one angle, you see Oochoo's name. From another angle, her daughter's name, Serenity, is written.

This tattoo is hiding scars on Oochoo's arm. (Adnan Mohamad/SRC)

With White Pony Lodge, Oochoo has taken on the mission of making a difference in North Central, the neighborhood with the highest crime rate in Regina in 2016, according to the Regina Police Service.

Oochoo said her tattoos represent a lot of what she's doing for her community: "They show strength, courage, my protective side."

Oochoo now hopes to reduce stigmatization around people with tattoos, because she said they are a reflection of a person's stories and experiences.