Indigenous Ink Tattoo and Arts Festival 2015 Part 2

This was only the first time we visited Gordon at his shop the second time was with the gracious organizer extraordinaire of Indigenous Ink Terry Klavenes a Tongan tattoo artists who is working at bringing the motifs and designs from his Tongan heritage into his tattoo work.

Indigenous Ink 2015

Terry Klavenes Indigenous Ink 2015

During our second visit we happened to be there during the raising of Gordon’s new sign outside of his shop, which warranted an impromptu celebration that included some of New Zealand seafood. One of these “delicacies” is Kina, which are sea urchin eggs, I tried them once and that will be the only time I put these in my mouth. After trying a few of the things offered I thoroughly enjoyed my order of fish and chips.

Gordon Toi House of Natives Ta Moko

House of Natives


The whole time I was in New Zealand I was drooling over a beautiful tattoo machine hand crafted by House of Native artist Heeds. This machine has a Pounamu side plate and is beautiful; maybe this year 2016 I will pick it up. The artwork on the walls in the display cases and the tattoo portfolios of this shop speak volumes to the success and importance of the House of Natives.

Pounamu Tattoo Machine

Heeds Tattoo Machine

Terry and his family graciously offered their home for a group of international artists to stay at while in Auckland, including Elle, Charphil, Nahaan, Taku Oshima, and myself. It was the night before the Indigenous Ink event that I was introduced to Taku, Nahaan, Tihoti, and Haki Williams. It was humbling to sit and listen to the knowledge and wisdom of these masters of traditional tattooing originating from their respective countries and cultures.

Indigenous Ink 2015

The first day of the Indigenous Ink tattoo festival was absolutely breathtaking as we gathered in front of the Ngā Kete Wānanga Marae at the Manukau Institute of Technology and where called into marae with a pōwhiri which included a song and a ceremonial wero challenge from a Maori warrior which is done to check the intentions of the guests. Hawaiian cultural tattoo practitioner Keone Nunes was invited to take up the token which indicated our intentions of peace. After which we were welcomed into the marae and treated a full day of presentations from Keone Nunes, Maya Sialuk Jacobsen, Elle Festin, Nahaan, and Lawrence Ah ching.

Keone Nunes at MIT marae

Keone Nunes facing warrior

Maya is involved in the work of tattoo revival in the north with a project entitled Tupik Mi. Maya and her friend and partner in this project Holly Nordlum spoke about the challenges and joys of the work of revival that they are involved in. Keone spoke about his work in Hawaii and showcased many of the tattoos worn on the bodies of those who travelled with him. Lawrence shared about his concerns with health and safety associated with tattooing in general and in particular some of the innovations that he has developed for his tools. Innovations necessary for his inclusion in Western tattoo conventions. Nahaan shared with us his burden for the revival and decolonization of his people and Indigenous peoples internationally. The final presentation was delivered by Elle assisted by Charphil, in this presentation Elle took us on a journey which recounted his work in reviving tattoo tribals of the Philippines.

Presentations at Indigenous Ink

The next few days included the main portion of Indigenous Ink held at MIT Manukau.

Indigenous Ink 2015

Indigenous Ink 2015 Venue

Haki Williams

Haki Williams

Tihoti Tahiti Tattoo


Taku Oshima Black Addicts Tattooing

Taku Oshima

Pip Hartley Ta Moko Tattoo

Pip Hartley

Nahaan Tattooing at Indigenous Ink


Lawrence Ah Ching Samoan Tattooing

Lawrence Ah Ching

Keone Nunes Hawaiin Tattooing

Keone Nunes

Dion Kaszas Skin Stitch Tattooing

Dion Kaszas (Photo by Grant Apiata)

Elle Festin tattooing at Indigneous Ink

Elle Festin



This is not an extensive photo gallery of all the artists who attended but a small selection of photos that I have on hand. The following picture was taken of most of the participants on the final day of the event.

Indigenous Ink group photo

Stay tuned for the final installment of my time in New Zealand for the 2015 Indigenous Ink tattoo and arts festival. This will include some of the none Indigenous Ink tattooing events that took place while I was in New Zealand and the few days following the event and the road trip I took with Nahaan touring the North Island.

Nathan Road Tripping

Nahaan Road Trippin

Indigenous Ink Tattoo and Arts Festival 2015: Part 1

I have been working on this post for awhile and have decided since it is so long that I will post it in sections, enjoy part one.



In November of 2015 I travelled to the Maori, Pacific and Global Indigenous Tattoo Festival (Indigenous Ink) in Aotearoa held at the Manukau Station, Auckland New Zealand. This event took place on November 20th to the 22nd and featured over 30 Indigenous tattoo artists and cultural practitioners from across the globe. As stated in the document Press Kit put out by Maori, Pacific and Global Indigenous Tattoo Festival:

“Indigenous Ink is a living exhibition of artistic excellence in Indigenous tattoo. The event focuses on Indigenous tattoo practitioners and their art. Indigenous Ink raises the awareness of the historical, cultural and contemporary significance of Maori, Pacific and global Indigenous tattoo traditions.”

As an Indigenous tattoo artist and cultural tattoo practitioner when I think back to the beginning of my journey into the revival of Nlaka’pamux tattooing I always looked across the Pacific to New Zealand and the renaissance of Moko among the Maori. Inspiration and courage came from the voices, practices, and journeys of the many Pacific Island tattoo artists and cultural practitioners. Even though I had not met many of the people I considered my mentors and teachers in person it was their work, their, courage, their, journeys, that lead me to my revival efforts. I heard their words and stories through magazine articles, academic journals, documentaries, and TV shows. When I was invited to attend and participate in the Indigenous ink Tattoo and Arts festival as an invited artist I was overjoyed at the opportunity to finally travel to New Zealand.



As I wandered around Auckland New Zealand the week before Indigenous Ink checking out the tourist destinations I was struck by the large numbers of Maori walking around wearing Moko (Maori Tattoo), on their faces, arms, and legs. This is when I was reminded of the history of the almost complete decimation of Moko, and the Maori’s efforts to revive it. Seeing Moko around every turn inspired a dream, a vision of the city streets in North America. Streets filled with Indigenous peoples of every Nation and Tribe proudly wearing their ancestors ink. A symbol of who they are, where they come from and a connection to their ancestors. A mark which testifies to the resilience of us as Indigenous peoples, a declaration of our land rights, our fight and a declaration that we will always be here as a people.

One of my favourite attractions while in Auckland was the Art gallery and more specifically their collection of Maori portraits painted by Charles Goldie and Gottfried Lindauer. The detail and care that was put into these amazing portraits completely floored me. After purchasing the book “Goldie” from the art gallery book store was I made aware of the titles and the unfortunate underlying premise of Goldie’s work, which has plagued many academic disciplines including anthropology. Simply put as the documenting of a dying race, or documenting the relics of history.


As an invited indigenous tattoo artist from Canada it was a long journey to reach Aotearoa but the value of this event and my time spent in New Zealand cannot be measured. After a few days exploring Auckland on my own other artists began to arrive, the first group of artists included Elle-Mana Festin a Filipino tattoo artist and his assistant and travel companion Charphil from The Mark of the Four Waves Tribe accompanied by Mataih. As we sat down to eat at a food court on K-Road in Auckland I found this overwhelming sense of being among my people. As a cultural tattoo practitioner and Indigenous person my work and position in the tattoo industry is marginal and I am usually one of a handful of Indigenous tattoo artists at any given tattoo related event, but in this case I was at home.

Elle Festin and the Four Waves Tribe have been involved in the revival of Filipino tattooing for over 18 years, his work has been featured in many magazine articles and books including Kalinga Tattoo by Lars Krutak. As the story of his journey into the revival of Filipino tattoos began to unfold I was blown away by the amount work and dedication he has had over the years. I am grateful and honoured to call him my friend and colleague. It is through Elle that I was slowly introduced to many of the Indigenous tattoo artists on my trip.



Elle and Charphil at the Auckland Zoo

During that first meeting with Elle I was introduced to Matiah Maia Waiapu Koloamatangi a contemporary Indigenous artist who is influenced by her Maori, Tongan and Scandinavian heritage. It was during this first meeting that I felt I had found my tattoo family, among other Indigenous tattoo artists, this was not the last time I felt this way during my trip. Shortly after this meeting I was introduced to Pip Hartley of Karanga Ink in Auckland New Zealand, she skilfully crafts elegant Polynesian designs that flow and fit the body. I was lucky enough to receive one of her pieces during my trip and can’t wait to complete our trade the next time I see her.



Me Getting Tattooed by Pip Hartley

Over the next few days I would continue visiting many Auckland tourist attractions accompanied by Elle and Charphil including the Auckland Zoo and Auckland Museum. It was a very informative and enjoyable experience wondering through the glass cases which displays the museum collections especially those that contain the tattooing implements from across the Pacific. We discussed the different lengths, styles and Elle educated me on his ancestors tattooing practice of tapping.



Elle and I at the Auckland Museum

After a full day of checking out the city we took a trip to visit with New Zealand tattoo legend Steve Ma Ching. Who graciously took time to chat with us in the middle of completing a back piece on a client who flew in from Germany. He regaled us with stories from his amazing career and we all left with stomachs sore from laughter.



During these first few days we stopped by the new shop of the House of Natives in Auckland and I meet another New Zealand tattoo legend Gordon Toi.


I first became familiar with Gordon as I started my research into Indigenous tattoo revival in a global sense as I watched the PBS show Skin Stories.

Check out him out in this clip on YouTube

To be continued…

Guest Blog Post by Tlingit Cultural Tattoo Artist Nahaan: Indigenous Ink 2015

Indigenous Ink 2015

Nahaan Tattooing at Indigenous Ink 2015 taken from his Facebook

Nahaan Tattooing at Indigenous Ink 2015 taken from his Facebook

This tattoo festival brought together some of the most outstanding indigenous tattoo artists from around the world. The festival reunited old ancestral ties between the pacific rim cultures as well as interior tribes. The festival was a rare and fantastic platform for indigenous tattoo revivals to be recognized and encouraged out of the history books they previously had been kept in. The unification of like spirited tattooers from around the world lifted our morale and raised the standard of what tattoo festivals should look like. There was a presence of familial love and sharing which created a sense of sacredness that lacks in the larger group of modern day tattoo culture. Our generous and hospitable host Terry Klavenes was organized and seamlessly brought ceremonial protocol into the MIT Marae we were hosted in. There were many key players from different communities that contributed to the positive vibration that emulated throughout the conference. There are far too few places internationally that are Indigenized and create a solid sense of belonging for our people and Indigenous Ink Fest is one of those few. During the fest, techniques, styles, traditional languages, songs, and protocols are shared. These processes build community and better the mental health of our people through the use of our cultural practices, stories and worldviews. There is a philosophy that is held by each practitioner which stems from generations and generations of powerful oral history, wisdom and experience. The quantifiable betterments of participants can be found in the smiles of those who attended and through the transformation tales they now share. Intergenerational healing also takes place as our older generations see their descendants pride and new found motivations that involve their hereditary indigenous culture in the present day. By tattooing our traditions we are helping to revitalize integral parts of our cultures that were shamed out of our lives by colonizer newcomers. By investing in our culture through tattooing and use of customary tools we are breathing life back into the very same process, feelings, and environmental inter-connectedness that our ancestors thrived in. There is a great need for Indigenous people to feel comfortable with their traditional practices as an every day remedy for the negative affects of colonization that echo onto future generations.

Some of the work done while at the festival:

Gallery 101 Performance of Skin Stitch Earth Line Tattooing Action

In Ottawa Ontario, Canada from October 31st to November 28th at Gallery 101, an art exhibition curated by Cheryl L’Hirondelle entitled, “Owning With the Gaze” featured works by Millie Chen, Leah Decter, Stephen Foster, Ayumi Goto, Suzanne Morrissette, Lisa Myers and myself. At the opening of this exhibition on October 31st I performed my first “Earth line tattooing action” from 6-10pm. This blog post will outline where the idea for this performance emerged and share some of my thoughts, feelings, emotions and insights that have come to my consciousness since that date a little over a month ago.

In Tattooing and Face and Body Painting of the Thompson Indians by James Teit was my first introduction to the motif of the earth line, on page 411 Teit explains, “a straight horizontal line is generally called an ‘earth line,’ especially if it is placed underneath some other figure. It represents the earth.” The idea of a tattoo motif connected to my ancestors that simply represented the earth was such a poignant design for todays world, a world plagued by complete destruction of many of earths habitats and the extinction of many species of plants, animals, birds, and fish. This got me thinking about the use of this simple design to help remind people about our earth and that if we do not take care of it we will perish.

After thinking about this teaching I was fatefully connected with my friend Peter Morin an Indigenous performance artist through a graduate degree course at the University of British Columbia Okanagan in Kelowna British Columbia. It was after chatting with Peter over lunch about my work into reviving Nlaka’pamux tattooing and specifically skin stitch tattooing that Peter indicated that he would be delighted to assist in the revival of skin stitching and would like to get tattooed and that he would leave the design up to me. After some thoughtful consideration I suggested we skin stitch the earth line onto Peter’s arm, I briefly explained the teachings I had begun to develop around the earth line and our need to be mindful of how our actions affect our environment.

Peter Earth Line


During the same course I was also introduced to Cheryl L’Hirondelle and began to tattoo two serpents on her back. A tattoo that took three sessions to complete, between our first and second tattooing session I began to more fully explore the visual and material culture of my Nlaka’pamux ancestors. The earthline motif consistently began to appear and as I looked at baskets, architecture, clothing and body painting. In the book Earth Line and Morning Star: Nlaka’pamux Clothing Traditions by Leslie Tepper the earth line as a teaching for our day took on more meaning. Leslie says that, “In architecture as in clothing, people wrapped themselves in circular structures. Families livid in circular winter pithouses and summer mat tipis. Dome-shaped sweat houses were places of prayer and renewal. Clothing in the form of capes, cloaks and blankets also physically wrapped the individual. Painted motifs at the hem, waist or collar and on belts and headbands are described as earth lines. Often decorated with designs of ‘trees’ or ‘mountains’, they encircle the individual in a symbolic representation of the Nlaka’pamux landscape…Perhaps the encircling image of the earth line reflects on an intimate, personal level the individual within his or her environment; encompassed by mountains and rivers, it includes places of power and of home (79-80). The development of the skin stitch earth line began to develop as I gained more knowledge surrounding this simple motif and its place in our Nlaka’pamux psyche and our visual and material culture.

Mat Tipi Inside Pit House Pit House

Mat Tipi                                                       Inside pit house                                                Pit house from outside

Earth Line and Morning Star Earth Line Dress Earth Line Dress Earth Line Dress

Examples of earth line on clothing

After considering the earth line and its use on our clothing I pictured what a bird might see if it flew over top of one of my great grandmothers wearing a cloak with a earth line painted on it. Simplified down to a simple diagram it might appear as two concentric circles.


The inner circle would represent my grandmother or who ever was wearing the cloak or garment and the outer circle the earth and all that sustains the wearers life.

As soon as I envisioned the two concentric circles and how each represented self and the earth respectively I was reminded of a Syilx teaching I had obtained through one of the professors I had during my undergraduate degree in Indigenous studies at UBC Okanagan, Dr. Jeannette Armstrong. It is from her teachings in conjunction with the idea of the earth line encircling us as we wear it painted on or clothing or as we sat in our pit houses or mat tipis that the teachings began to grow. Jeannette uses the schematic of what is commonly known as a nested systems schematic to help us understand what she is saying.

Nested Enowkin Circle

Jeannette says:

First we can expect each INDIVIDUAL to fully appreciate that, while each person is singularly gifted, each person actualizes full human potential only as a result of physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual well-being, and that those four aspects of existence are always contingent on external things.

Second, as an individual each person is a single facet of a transgenerational organism known as a FAMILY. Through this organism flows the powerful lifeblood of cultural transference designed to secure the best probability of well-being for each of the generations.

Third, family systems are the foundation of a long term living network call COMMUNITY. In its various configurations this network spreads it life force over centuries and across physical space; it uses its collective knowledge to secure well-being of all by the short-and long-term choices made via its collective process.

And fourth, a community is the living process that interacts with the vast and ancient body of intricately connected patterns operating in perfect unison called LAND. The land sustains all life and must be protected from depletion in order to insure its continued good health and ability to provide sustenance over generations. It is a clear imperative that community-through the family and the individual-must be seen as a functioning whole system engaged in maintain principles that insure its well-being”

It is from this teaching that I see the nested system and its four concentric circles as an Indigenous Syilx ethical system that helps us to understand our relationships and our responsibilities. Many people see themselves as one lonely circle or island floating out in the great vastness of our world today. For these folks their concerns begin and end with themselves they feel no attachment or responsibility to any one or anything other than their own desires, wants, needs and dreams.

Some people see their connection to family and hold fast to the idea that their responsibility goes only as far as their familial connections, Blood is thicker than water. Then some look even further than themselves and their family out into their community, however they conceive of it. From this place they act in a way that helps to sustain and grow their family and their community. And finally a few of us alive today see our connection to and responsibility for the earth, our planet the very thing that makes the rest of our existence possible. Some understand their responsibility to the earth but forget their responsibility to family, other a responsibility to community and forget to take care of themselves.

The four concentric circles are one way of reminding us that we are connected, sustained by, and responsible for ourselves, our families, our communities and the earth. Returning to my visioning of the bird flying over top of my great grandmother wearing her cloak with an earthline painted on it, I see the teachings of the nested system highlighted. I see the two concentric circles as the self in the middle and the outer circle, the earth line as representing the earth and all that is. The earth line then becomes a teaching that helps to remind us of all that sustains us and nourishes us and of our responsibility to “maintain principles that insure its well-being.”

After reading and thinking about all of these things I met up with Cheryl again to continue working on her serpent tattoo, it seemed that she had been thinking about the brief teachings I had shared with her about Peter’s tattoo. She asked me to elaborate further on the meaning of the earth line so I again outlined my thinking associated with this simple yet potent symbol. She then indicated that she was interested in possibly somehow including this teaching in a show she was curating, I agreed even though we didn’t have a clear plan on how to accomplish this goal. After many phone talking about the earth line tattooing action resulted in the first performance of the Earth line tattooing action. I must admit I am forever grateful and thankful for the vision of Cheryl L’Hirondelle for helping me to see how I can share the earth line and its teachings in a bigger way than I had ever imagined.

Now with all of the background to the Earth line tattooing action which happened on October 31st at the opening of “Owning With the Gaze” lets explore the event itself. I was assisted by Melody McKiver, Tayrn Pelletier, and Christi Belcourt as I tattooed skin stitch earth lines on between twenty and thirty guests who were in attendance in four hours. Each individual learned of the earth line and its teachings, and each now embodies their responsibilities to the earth or land and all that is.

Earth Line Tattoo @Gallery 101 Skin Stitch Earth Line @Gallery 101 Skin Stitch Earth Line Tattoo Skin Stitch Earth Line

At the end of the event we gathered all who remained and each revealed their earth line and stood in a circle which is a reminder of not only each individuals responsibilities but also our collective responsibility.

Gallery 101 Communal Earth Line Tattoo

After having time to think about this event, I am blown away on how it unfolded, many of the folks who got skin stitched it was their first tattoo others it was the first time they had even heard of skin stitching and other had never even considered getting tattooed. Some happily chatted, others sat contemplating or trying not to cry sometimes it was hard to tell. At times the whole gallery space transformed into a very sacred place as singers sang as they received their earth line or in support of those who needed it. People stopped talking and centered their energy and attention of those involved in embodying this symbol. The stitching of earth lines at Gallery 101 on October 31st, 2015 has begun a movement, for there is talk about a second and possibly a third performance of the “Skin Stitch Earth Line Tattooing Action” in Vancouver and Queen’s University.

Skin Stitch or Sewing Tattooing

The art of skin stitch tattooing is one my ancestors practiced for generations and it is coming back to life one stitch at a time, here is a short video documenting me sewing a tattoo on a friend of mine Cody. Enjoy and stay tuned for more videos and more posts.

Lar Krutak’s TED Talk, “The Cultural Heritage of Tattooing.”

Check out Lars’s TED Talk, he does an amazing job outlining the importance of Indigenous tattoo knowledge and the need to document your nations tattooing practices. I am honoured to have been mentioned during this presentation and am thankful for the work that he has done and continues to do.


Tattooing at the Calgary Tattoo Convention

It is official I will be hand poke, skin stitch and machine tattooing at the Calgary tattoo convention this year, it runs October 16th-18th at the BMO Centre, Stampede Park in Calgary, Alberta Canada. Just posted the news and already booking, send me a message at and let me know what you are interested in getting done.


Skin Stitch Tattooing Kristine Wilson, the revival of Nlaka’pamux traditional tattooing!

One of the greatest gifts I have been given by the creator is the gift of tattooing, and with that gift I also have a responsibility to share it. This is a video documenting the revival of Nlaka’pamux skin stitch tattooing. The top design incorporates an earth line and trees, and the lower design is a river and its banks.  The earth line is a motif that was commonly found on our upper garments.   For me the earth line is a constant reminder of our relationship to, and the dependence on, the earth and all that is. Being reminded, in that moment our responsibility to this world bubbles to the surface of our consciousness. The earthline is there to bring us all back to our Indigeneity (living in a sustainable way). Check it out!

Skin Stitch and Hand Poke Tattooing Peter Morin

Another video of skin stitch and hand poke tattooing done on Peter Morin this past summer, the revival of Indigenous tattooing.

Hand Poke Indigenous Tattoo on Cheryl L’Hirondelle

Here is a short video I edited of the video captured during a hand poke tattoo session with my friend Cheryl L’Hirondelle the beautiful singing was recorded during the process of this tattoo, it was amazing to hear Cheryl sing as we tattooed. I would like to thank my friend Jordan Bennett for taking the time to operate the camera and recording the audio. I will be continuing to edit short videos similar to this one in coming months.