Métis artist shares Indigenous 'tattoo medicine' on the prairies
Regina artist Stacey Fayant recently completed tattoo training in Halifax
An inked flower marks Stacey Fayant's thigh. Dotted grass cradles the bloom. Underneath are four long lines, painstakingly stitched with needle, thread and ink.
The tattoo imagery is inspired by beadwork from her Métis culture.
It was the first tattoo Fayant gave while at the Earthline Tattoo Training Residency in Halifax. She's since returned to Regina and is practising as an Indigenous cultural tattoo practitioner.
Fayant has joined the revival of the cultural tattooing practice in North America. The practice is prevalent in other regions, but it still rare relatively rare across North America.
The residency in Halifax was intense in education and emotion.
"I don't think I was fully aware of how difficult the work would be — of being reintroduced to this practice my people had not known for a long, long time," she said.
She likens the experience to the time she saw buffalo running from the lookout at Buffalo Pound Provincial Park in Saskatchewan.
"My heart cried because I thought of all the buffalo we had lost. They used to roam the prairie and be like a sea of life," she said. "The experience of re-learning about tattooing was very similar."
Fayant said there was joy in revival, but also sorrow felt for the generations who didn't experience it.
She said the tradition faded away as the colonists came. However, she remembers what her teachers said: that the practice was never dead; it was only asleep.
Tattooing a tool for healing
Earthline Tattoo Collective has a mandate to bring in artists from across Canada. That's so the practice can expand and ensure that "everyone who wants to get their traditional marks can get their traditional marks," Dion Kaszas said. He is one-third of the Earthline Tattoo Collective volunteers.
There are two methods to Indigenous tattooing: handpoke and skin-stiching. The practice is done with tattoo ink, a normal needle and thread. Fayant said that in the past, bone and sinew was likely used.
She said the residency in Halifax focused heavily on health and safety around blood borne pathogens, but it also examined the importance of mental and spiritual health.
It would bring me back to my body.- Stacey Fayant
Fayant said the tattooing can be healing for people dealing with grief or trauma.
"In our hearts, we know that that type of practice, that type of body modification does something for us in that moment of pain and change," she said.
Fayant first experienced healing through body modification when she stretched her ears and found relief from immense grief.
"It really helped bring me back to the present to the physical. Any time I was regretting the past or worrying about the future I could think about my ear stretching," she said.
"It would bring me back to my body."
'You have to do this for me'
Alongside healing, Fayant said identity and connection are also at play. After returning to Regina, she gave her sister a chin tattoo and a thunderbird on her back.
"Both of those are very important tattoos for her identity and for strengthening her," she said. "It was very important for her to be able to wear her culture."
Fayant often considers her family members who didn't know about Indigenous tattooing traditions.
When Fayant was 18, she had a moon and star inked on her body.
It was one of the only times her dad became angry with her.
He had gone to residential school, where "he had been taught that tattoos were something to be embarrassed about," Fayant said. "If he had lived to know the tradition, it would have changed his mind."
We always say dot by dot and line by line, you know, we reconnect ourselves together and to the earth.- Dion Kaszas
When Fayant first heard the school was considering her, she asked her partner if they could make it work. It would entail weeks away from their family and her job.
She teared up as she remembers her 11-year-old daughter's interjection.
"She said, 'Mommy, you have to do this. You have to do this for me.'"
Now, Fayant feels a sense of responsibility to share the cultural practice on the Prairies. She hopes to inspire others to learn more about the Indigenous tradition and its revival.
Connecting through dots and lines
The growth of cultural tattooing is emotional for Kaszas.
First, he feels gratitude and honour that he can share the practice with others. He also feels excited to see the "tattoo medicine" expanding, to help more people heal.
Kaszas said it has been a bit burdensome to carry the weight and responsibility of the cultural practice. He feels a sense of relief that others, like Fayant, are now helping to spread the healing practice.
"We always say dot by dot and line by line, you know, we reconnect ourselves together and to the earth."