An ‘Ancestral Memory’ Inscribed in Skin – The New York Times

These tattoos were traditionally inscribed on women’s skin by women’s hands to commemorate various achievements and points in a woman’s life, such as one’s first menstrual period, the mastery of a new skill and childbirth. But as Western colonization swept Alaska in the 19th and 20th centuries, including the establishment of boarding schools where indigenous languages would not be spoken, many Alaska Natives were prohibited from practicing the rituals that had bound them to one another. Tattooing was one of those traditions. In the last decade, women in Alaska and other areas of the circumpolar north have been working to revitalize the tattooing tradition. For them it is a response to the long-ago efforts to wipe out cultural practices and entire populations of people, and a celebration of cultural resilience.