Costain, Rae

Project title: Indigenous Tattooing in British Columbia: Resistance and Resurgence in the Visual Record

Department: Anthropology

Faculty supervisor: Dr. Andrea Walsh

"Tattooing, piercing, and other body modification practices are significant among many Indigenous communities throughout what is now British Columbia as a means of expressing identity, social standing, and social place. Crest tattoos indicating familial and clan association were ritually applied during potlatch ceremonies. With the potlatch ban enacted in the 1880s along with pressure from missionaries who discouraged the practice, tattooing was gradually replaced by other means of representing crests, including jewelry. However, the knowledge of traditional tattooing persisted, and the practice has been revitalized in many communities.

This research engages two complex visual records: the first is the anthropological record created in the era of salvage anthropology and cultural suppression. The second is a contemporary record emerging from the resurgence of tattoo practice in Indigenous communities and documented by Indigenous artists through forums like blogs and social media. The link between these records are the tattoo designs which have maintained powerful social meanings throughout colonization.

This research will explore the way that Indigenous tattooing practice on the west coast of Canada has been documented, first through drawings and sketches commissioned from community artists and later through photography and social media. The combined visual record reveals the agency of artists and their designs during the time of the potlatch ban and contemporarily and shows how the knowledge held in the anthropological record can be adapted to support Indigenous resurgence. This research will also explore the ways that visible identity markers contribute to cultural resurgence in our contemporary, multicultural context."