Ganondagan, a museum and former village site of the Seneca Nation, held its Tattoo Traditions of Turtle Island event on October 15th in Victor, NY to showcase Iroquoian and other nations traditional tattoos. The event contained presentations on historical tattoos and a live demonstration.
Michael Galban, Washoe/Paiute, curator at Ganondagan opened the event with a presentation on customs of the Northeast Woodland Natives, with an emphasis on Haudenosaunee tattoos, but also touched on Delaware and Cree tattoo traditions.
Galban noted a lack of oral history and recorded evidence showing that the Haudenosaunee women wore tattoos. He explained that because men’s tattoos often reflected skill on the battlefield, clan identities and other accomplishments and were worn in view, they made their way into history.
Tattoo anthropologist Lars Krutak gave a presentation on traditional tattoos in the Arctic. Having traveled the world documenting Indigenous tattoo practices for nearly 20 years, hek explained that until the early 20th century the majority of Alaskan Native women wore tattoos.
“It was also the women who were the tattoo artists,” said Krutak, who also explored the practice of skin sewing. “A needle with thread soaked in ink is pulled through the skin and the ink disperses as it heals. What starts out as dots not connected ends up a solid line.”
After his presentation, Galban’s traditional tattoo demonstration of the stick and poke method on recipient Elli Carr (Mohawk), drew a crowd. Using modern ink instead of ground charcoal, Galban applied ink with a sterilized needle that was fastened to a piece of birch tree.
Galban invoked old customs by using a lightning struck tree. Haudenosaunee tattoo artists did so traditionally to instill the power of the Thunder Beings.
After the demonstration, Carr said it was a much better tattoo experience versus getting inked with a tattoo machine. showing his tattoo to the crowd, Carr says he also noticed that there was less blood and swelling.
Ganondagan hosts many events throughout the year; more information can be found here.