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Reawakening Our Ancestors' Lines: Revitalizing Inuit Traditional Tattooing

For thousands of years, Inuit practiced the traditional art of tattooing. Created the ancient way, with bone needles and caribou sinew soaked in seal oil, sod, or soot, these tattoos were an important tradition for many Inuit women, symbols etched on their skin that connected them to their families and communities. But with the rise of missionaries and residential schools in the North, the tradition of tattooing was almost lost. In 2005, when Angela Hovak Johnston heard that the last Inuk woman tattooed in the old way had died, she set out to tattoo herself in tribute to this ancient custom and learn how to tattoo others. What was at first a personal quest became a project to bring the art of traditional tattooing back to Inuit women across Nunavut, starting with Johnston’s home community of Kugluktuk. Collected in this beautiful book are moving photos and stories from more than two dozen women who participated in Johnston’s project. Together, these women have united to bring to life an ancient tradition, reawakening their ancestors’ lines and sharing this knowledge with future generations.

Awards

  • 2018 NorthWords Book Prize Winner