Indigenous People and their connection to ancestors through tattooing

Indigenous People seated in tribal dress

In many cities and states across the United States, the second Monday in October is celebrated as Indigenous Peoples' Day; a holiday that celebrates and honors Native peoples and commemorates their histories and cultures. This holiday replaces Columbus Day.  Many people reject celebrating Columbus day because it represents the violent history and colonization in the Western Hemisphere and the covering-up of Christopher Columbus' actions such as enslaving Native people.

Native people have suffered due to forced indoctrination to a Western way of life. Many of the Native traditions were nearly erased. From the early 1900s to 1970s, the US government forcibly took children from their communities and sent them to boarding schools run by Christian churches, the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs, or, in some cases, state governments. The loss of languages, ways of life, and cultural identity have had repercussions in Indigenous communities to this day. The art of tattooing was one of the era’s casualties, and the practice largely disappeared in Native cultures during the early 20th century. The experience was deeply traumatizing for these Indigenous cultures.

Honoring Ancestral traditions of Indigenous Tattooing

The resurgence of indigenous tattooing is gaining momentum as younger generations are looking to reconnect with their ancestors.  The practice has only a few masters but many young practitioners are committed to learn and continue time-honored traditions and their ancestors.  

 Tattoo Artist Nahann doing Tlingit tattoo work

Nahann uses traditional poke and skin stitch techniques when doing Tlingit tattoo work.  Watch his work in action and his connection to the past by sharing in the present. 



Maya Sialuk Jacobsen, an Inuit tattoo artist, doing traditional face tattooMaya Sialuk Jacobsen is a Inuit tattoo artist who uses stitch and hand poke methods. She has been Artist In Residence at Anchorage Museum as a part of the Inuit tattoo project, Tupik Mi. In an article on, Maya shares her thoughts on Inuit tattoos done by women and for women, serving as a marking of important moments in a woman’s life. Watch Maya use Inuit hand stitch method. 


Sulu'ape Keone Nunes, a master in Kākau uhi traditional Hawaiian Tattooing

Sulu'ape Keone Nunes is a master in Kākau uhi, traditional Hawaiian Tattooing.  He shares this tradition by teaching others in his traditional tattoo school known as Pāuhi. In an article on, he states “when I tattoo someone, they change in a very profound way. As they lie on the mat getting work done, they’re connecting to their ancestors. It’s an unfiltered way of getting in touch with who you are as an individual.”


While Native designs influence American traditional tattooing, it is important to understand the meaning of any design you choose for your next tattoo.  Know what the images mean and represent before you get your ink.  Be informed and understand the importance of culture, history, and your tattoo design. 

At Ink Defense, we respect and honor all Indigenous people in our nation.

Learn more about Indigenous People and Tattooing 

Skindigenous is a series of mini-documentaries on the art of tattooing as practiced by indigenous peoples around the world, produced by PBS station KCET. is a wealth of information and insight of indigenous tattooing around the world; curated by Dion Kazas, a cultural tattoo practitioner and Indigenous scholar with a passion for sharing knowledge and insights on indigenous tattooing.