Four Days and Four Cities Later

SO I am back in Toronto. I was initially worried about how people would receive me with these markings on my face. I’m pleasantly surprised to say that in Edmonton, Calgary, Port Dover, and Toronto, people have been pretty okay so far. I’ve been in two airports, a few cabs, very rarely will someone obviously stare at me. I’m sure that will change as more time goes on. But I’ve only had a couple of people give me stink eye about it, both of them were white people, and I pretty much felt it roll past me because I didn’t need anything from either of them, not a service or approval or anything. I did just come home yesterday though, and I know probably some people in my co-op will comment, and possibly acquaintances I have around the neighbourhood who know me because I shop at their store all the time or eat in their establishments. But I have good relationships with those people anyway because I’m generally a friendly person to customer service and wait staff.

I’ve had a pretty good response from people I know in my real life on facebook and stuff. My Mom was in the room when I got it done and has heard me talk about wanting them for years, so she was really positive about the whole thing and it was really nice having her there. I sent a pic to my Dad over text because I actually am not super close to him so he never heard my years of thinking and wanting them. He didn’t even know I was getting them. He just said “You have lines on your face” and then said he had met an older woman many years ago who had the same lines. But both my parents are Indigenous artists, so it’s really like, pretty much impossible to shock them, thank god. And I also really didn’t do this to be shocking, I just did this because I’ve had a yearning for it for so long.

I did feel DIFFERENT though, like the way I move through the world now feels different. When I was in the airports I felt like I was a link between the past that my ancestors lived in and struggled and survived, and a future where MORE Cree people were surviving and thriving and being involved in the world. Like there are people from all over the world who pass through the Calgary and Toronto airports, and there was I! It felt like passing through a barrier, this getting tattoos thing, I’m not really sure how to explain it. I both feel connected to old Cree ways, but also new and like a connection to a vibrant future where Cree people are visible and present and creating impactful changes. I feel like before I had more anxiety about what was going to happen to Cree people, because I’ve got intergenerational trauma from Canadian and American genocides of my people. So even tho I felt like maybe we were okay, there was this sense in my blood and bones of how tenuous our survival is. But something about having this tattoo makes me feel like we are gonna make it, like we are gonna be okay, like of COURSE there are gonna be Cree people in the future, we’ve already survived a massive apocalypse and even though things are hard we can still laugh about things and love each other and do things like mark ourselves with Cree markings in a traditional way like skin stitch. I dunno, it’s really empowering for me as a Cree person to have this on my face. And I’m also really happy as a light skinned person that it’s made me really look obviously Indigenous. People have said it makes my eye shape pop out more, which is really interesting because that’s a part of my face that is really OBVIOUSLY not a white person trait. I have really Cree shaped eyes, some people who don’t know I’m Indigenous think I’m Asian. Like we just have similar shapes. BUT YEAH now I look even less white which is a relief.

I feel like I wasn’t ready for this until now. Like, the artist who did it has only practiced skin stitch for three years now, so she wasn’t available even four years ago to do this. I think the fact that more Indigenous women especially, in particular Inuk and Maori women, are doing so much to bring back their traditional markings, has made this a good time in recent history to finally get them. I think there’s more support among other Indigenous people to do this, which maybe wasn’t as strong before. When I first wanted them in 2007 I knew it was a super radical idea at that time and I didn’t even know really why I felt called to get them. I just knew it was something that got put in my brain and I wasn’t ready and I knew I wasn’t ready and I was trying to figure out what I needed to do to be ready. I thought I would need to be fluent in Plains Cree or something. And I do know a LOT more Cree, but also I just finally knew last year that I could do it when I was 40. I think I also had to seriously think about work, and how to make money and be financially stable without depending on someone who would turn me away for having facial tattoos. And now I am doing pretty good with my career, and feeling able to make money without working a JOB job. I feel like I have skills and knowledge that is pretty specialized and I can rely on, in a field where this isn’t going to fuck me over. If I wasn’t an artist of some kind, I would probably still be considering this and how to keep earning money. I think also just knowing people who have facial tattoos, and seeing this coming back in all kinds of tribes, has really made me feel like it was finally the right time.

Anyway, yeah, it’s really interesting noticing those things, and feeling not only connected to my tribe’s past, but also part of my tribe’s future. I really like that feeling and I hadn’t anticipated having it. I didn’t know what it felt like to know that Plains Cree people were going to survive what has been happening to us.

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