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Creating connections at tattoo gathering

Katsitsahente Cross-Delisle attended the second annual Kanehsatà:ke Traditional Indigenous Tattoo Gathering last weekend, adding on to her tattoos with lightning bolts by artist Miciah Stasis. Eve Cable The Eastern Door

When Kahnawákeró:non Katsitsahente Cross-Delisle looked at her finished tattoo from Miciah Stasis at the Kanehsatà:ke Traditional Indigenous Tattoo Gathering, she could feel the presence of their ancestors.

“It must be amazing for our ancestors to see us now,” Cross-Delisle had said at the time. 

Stasis, who is from the Herring Pond Band of Wampanoag in Massachusetts, attended the gathering with her sister, and as she tattooed, she played traditional music on her speaker. Cross-Delisle couldn’t help but notice how similar it was to the traditional music she had grown up hearing and that the beautiful wampum jewellery Stasis was selling was the same as the wampum shell she’s so familiar with. 

“Our ancestors must have been trading. It’s a warm feeling to look around at all the different artists and see people from different cultures and see that we’re similar. It must be real nice for our ancestors to see that,” Cross-Delisle said. “Their work wasn’t in vain. Even if the colonizers tried to stop our connections, you can’t stop us talking together. We’re sitting there, we found a way.”

This year marked the second annual Kanehsatà:ke Traditional Indigenous Tattoo Gathering, held from August 4-6 at the Kanesatake powwow grounds. The event was organized by Kanehsata’kehró:non Katsi’tsaronhkwas Stacy Pepin.

“I’m really, really happy to be able to build these connections between other communities,” said Pepin. “It was a good time, everyone was sharing the medicine, and sharing the love, and gaining new connections and new friends, and trading.”

Many artists accepted trades for their tattoos – for the second year in a row, Pepin traded a pair of moccasins for her tattoo, as well as beadwork. 

“It’s really about revitalizing the tradition of markings – we always say tattoos, but they’re markings, they’re rites of passage,” Pepin said, explaining that rekindling practices like trading for work is an important element of the gathering. “It’s about establishing a very safe and inclusive space for all Indigenous people, whether you’re fully immersed in the culture or whether you’re just reconnecting and finding yourself. It’s an opportunity to explore not only your own culture and traditions, but to share.”

Cross-Delisle has been getting tattoos with the goal of honouring her culture for some time now. She works in archaeology, often recovering ancestral remains or artifacts such as Indigenous pottery. 

Her arms are already adorned with designs made up from fragments of her favourite pieces of pottery she’s found, and she worked with Stasis to add onto those designs, incorporating a lightning bolt design into one of her existing pieces. 

“When I was a kid, whenever there was a lightning storm or thunder, I’d be so excited to sit on my porch and listen to everything, listen to the rain. As a kid, I never knew that the thunders are a medicine. It was only when I started getting older that I realized that they are, they help clean the environment, clean how you’re feeling,” Cross-Delisle explained. 

She told Stasis about her often emotionally-draining work as an archaeologist and thought about how often she needs that extra medicine to take care of herself. The two decided together to add seven lightning bolts to the six triangular points already in her tattoo. 

Now, she carries the medicine with her on her arm.

“When you’re dealing with ancestors that went through a lot of traumatic things, you feel what they went through,” Cross-Delisle said. “So that’s why I had the idea of lightning bolts, and she came up with tattooing them like that.”

For Cross-Delisle, it’s not just the imagery of the tattoo that is meaningful. The act of receiving the tattoo, done with traditional hand poke techniques, is especially important. 

“This is a ceremony between me and the artist, because I’m telling her the different things that I went through in life, and the different things I’m doing right now, and why I feel like I need this,” she explained. “The fact it’s hand poked, it’s a lot more intimate. You sit there, you can hear it. You’re so connected.”

Both Cross-Delisle and Pepin hope that the success of the past two years’ gatherings signals a vibrant future for traditional tattooing – Pepin hopes that there could one day be a tattoo gathering trail in the same way as there is the powwow trail.

“I’m definitely going to do it again next year,” Pepin added.

After Cross-Delisle received her tattoo, she walked down to the beach behind the sacred powwow grounds where the gathering took place. As she thought about how meaningful it was to have received a tattoo in the Pines surrounding her, she looked up and saw a rare sight – two eagles, flying together.

“I realized everything is set in motion,” she said. “Everything is connected.”

This article was originally published in print on Friday, August 11, in issue 32.32 of The Eastern Door.

Eve is a reporter with the Eastern Door. She has also covered harm reduction and social justice issues for the Montreal Gazette, The Breach, Filter Magazine, and more.

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Eve is a reporter with the Eastern Door. She has also covered harm reduction and social justice issues for the Montreal Gazette, The Breach, Filter Magazine, and more.