Indigenous tattoo artist Dion Kaszas tattoos an eagle on his sister Kris Wilson’s forearm in honour of their father who died on March 1. He also did the other tattoos on her arm. (Martha Wickett/Salmon Arm Observer)

B.C. artist featured on T.V. series highlighting Indigenous tattoo artistry

Skindigenous, a series on APTN TV, features international tattooing traditions including a Salmon Arm artist

Through tattooing, Dion Kaszas is playing a key role in stitching together the fabric of indigenous identity that colonization aimed to destroy.

That role is recognized in Skindigenous, a series on APTN TV that features indigenous tattoo artists from places around the world including New Zealand, Alaska, Indonesia, the Philippines, Samoa and Canada.

Kaszas, who grew up in Salmon Arm and practises his skill at Vertigo Tattoo, is described in the series as a leader in the revival of indigenous tattooing.

The revival is also a personal one, as he explains at the opening of the episode.

Amid sweeping views of Shuswap Lake and other areas of the community, Kaszas talks on camera about his experience.

“For me, the process of reviving my indigenous Nlaka’pamux tattooing practice has been a way of remembering, gaining back those teachings, gaining back those cultural ideals I never gained – so it’s a way of healing and re-indigenizing myself.”

For millennia, states the Skindigenous website, humans have been marking their bodies with images and symbols giving visible form to what they hold sacred. “Today,” the site continues, “indigenous artists around the world continue to practice this ancient art using their own techniques and traditions. For these artists, tattooing is an essential part of their cultural identity, as well as a vehicle for connecting with nature, the ancestors, and the spiritual world.”

Kaszas’ connection to indigenous tattooing was awakened in 2006 while sitting in the waiting room of a tattoo shop. He picked up a booklet from the early 1900s by anthropologist James Teit, Tattooing and Face and Body Painting of the Thompson Indians. At that time, he did not know his Nlaka’pamux First Nation had a tattooing tradition.

Much has changed. Kaszas immersed himself in learning about the ancient art. He honed his skills with the traditional hand poke and skin stitch techniques. He began working on his Masters thesis at UBC Okanagan in Indigenous Studies and will soon defend his thesis, which is focused on the revival of indigenous people’s tattooing practices. He has received awards and is sought-after and featured for his knowledge and artistry.

Related: Art provides aboriginal perspective

Coming up on June 7, 8 and 9, Kaszas will be guest curator at the Bill Reid Gallery in Vancouver for Body Language: Reawakening Cultural Tattooing of the Northwest.

After APTN’s four days of shooting last year for Kaszas’ episode of Skindigenous, they asked him to become an expert consultant on the series because he knows so many of the indigenous cultural tattoo practitioners.

On the day of the interview for this article, Kaszas’ sister Kris Wilson and her spouse Wes were in his studio.

Grief is fresh for them, as Kris and Dion’s dad died on March 1. He loved eagles. To honour their father, Dion tattooed an eagle on Kris’ arm, appropriately above a mountain tattoo with an Earth line below it.

The Earth line was often on an indigenous person’s garments, explains Kaszas.

“It is connected to our Earth view – our responsibilities and connectiveness to the earth.”

Traditional pit houses were also part of that view.

“When you think of being in a pit house, it’s another way you understand the Earth circling us.”

The tattooed Earth line is also a reminder of that connection.

Kaszas is thrilled to be part of the Skindigenous series, and is excited the production company is indigenous as is the main producer of the show, Jason Brennan. Rather than through a mainstream media lens, he says the show speaks to the whole picture of a revival.

“It’s connected to the historical background of the colonial project, with residential schools, missionization, banning of the potlatch at the Coast and in B.C., and indigenous cultural ceremonies…”

“Tattoos are so tied to our identity,” he emphasizes, and that identity is connected to the land.

“When we come back to uplifting ourselves, we’re not only claiming our own identity, but giving us strength to fight the fights we need to fight, with the reclaiming of our land…”

Kaszas’ episode has already aired on APTN, so can now be viewed online at http://aptn.ca/skindigenous/.


@SalmonArm
marthawickett@saobserver.net

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

 

Wes Wilson shows the salmon tattoo Dion Kaszas gave him during the filming of Skindigenous, an APTN TV program featuring indigenous tattoing traditions around the world. (Martha Wickett/Salmon Arm Observer)

Just Posted

VIDEO: Erikson’s Daylily Gardens and Perennials holds annual open house

Pam and Tom Erikson have 17th annual charitable fundraiser at their private Langley garden

VIDEO: Open-to-all sprinter event for dogs comes to Langley

The second event of its kind in Canada since new rules were implemented

VIDEO: Riding against MS in Langley

MS Bike — Fraser Valley Experience collects more than $140,000

VIDEO: Langley City legendary water fight was a soaking good time

And perfectly timed for a hot weather warning

REPLAY: B.C.’s best video this week

In case you missed it, here’s a look at replay-worthy highlights from across the province this week

Former NHL goalie Ray Emery drowns in Lake Ontario

Police say the 35-year-old’s death appears to be a ‘case of misadventure’

Air quality statement warns of smoky air for Kamloops area

Environment ministry says area on north side of Thompson River may be affected by wildfire smoke

Pussy Riot claims on-field protest at World Cup final

Russian protest group claimed responsibility after four people ran onto field in police uniforms

Fans party on Montreal streets after French World Cup win

To city is home to nearly 57,000 French nationals

SilverStar officially opens Gondola

The brand-new gondola is now offering scenic rides for visitors on SilverStar Mountain Resort.

VIDEO: Man climbs crane in Abbotsford

Police, fire called to deal with climber last night

B.C. VIEWS: Making private health care illegal again

Adrian Dix battles to maintain Cuba-style medical monopoly

Almost every part of Canada’s largest national park deteriorating: federal study

Drawing on decades of research — the report lists 50 pages of citations

Most Read