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)

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)

Highlighting Indigenous tattoo artistry

TV series on international tattooing traditions features 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

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

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

 

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

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

Just Posted

Be A Voice: A Musician’s Guide for the Live Performance, unlocks the keys to establishing a presence on stage. (Contributed - Jason Parsons)
Vancouver Islander writes the book on live performances

Jason Parsons’ new book unlocks the keys to establishing a presence on stage

VIU’s ‘Portal’ magazine is turning 30 years old. (Image courtesy Chantelle Calitz)
Vancouver Island University’s literary magazine ‘Portal’ celebrates 30 years

Virtual launch featuring contributor readings took place April 30

Nanaimo author Haley Healey recently launched her second book, ‘Flourishing and Free: More Stories of Trailblazing Women of Vancouver Island.’ (Photo courtesy Kristin Wenberg)
Nanaimo author pens second book on ‘trailblazing’ Vancouver Island women

Haley Healey’s ‘Flourishing and Free’ follows her 2020 debut ‘On Their Own Terms’

Saanich author Hannalora Leavitt hopes her new book, This Disability Experience, helps to dispel the ‘otherness’ that often surrounds people with disabilities. (Jane Skrypnek/News Staff)
Vancouver Island author demystifying disability and dismantling otherness

Hannalora Leavitt, who lives with a visual impairment, wants to change how people look at disability

Michael Demers, performing here as a member of The Lonely, died May 1 after a year-long battle with leukemia. (Photo by Benji Duke)
Victoria music community mourning Michael Demers

Veteran singer-songwriter, co-founder of The Lonely dies at 63 due to leukemia

Musqueam and Qualicum First Nations artist, Mathew Andreatta, next to several of his ongoing projects, including carvings and illustrations. (Submitted photo)
Island artist considers art a means to reconnect with his Indigenous identity

Andreatta thought of TOSH as a space of learning and creation

Nicolle Nattrass and Michael Armstrong are presenting an online reading on May 9. (Photos courtesy Joni Marcolin/Heather Armstrong)
Nanaimo playwrights present online Mother’s Day script readings

Nicolle Nattrass and Michael Armstrong to read from in-progress plays

Marianne Turley is one of this year’s City of Nanaimo Culture and Heritage Award winners for Honour in Culture. (Bulletin file photo)
Longtime Vancouver Island Symphony board member gets posthumous culture award

Marianne Turley receives City of Nanaimo Culture and Heritage Award for Honour in Culture

The CVAC Fine Arts Show is always something to see and 2021 promises to be no different, as they adopt a fully multimedia approach. (File photo)
Cowichan Valley Fine Arts Show goes multimedia for 2021

The show, which runs from May 1-22 will be available both in person and online.

Dinner After a Death, a painting by Sooke artist Bryan Cathcart is part of a collection featuring his work at the Outsiders and Others Gallery in Vancouver. (Contributed - Bryan Cathcart)
Sooke artist finds creativity by expanding artistic horizons

Bryan Cathcart, 26, featured at Vancouver gallery

Viking-inspired fantasy writer Joshua Gillingham of Nanaimo and Seattle-based Islamic science fiction editor Muhammad Aurangzeb Ahmad are co-editing ‘Althingi – The Crescent and the Northern Star.’ (Photos submitted, illustration by Lada Shustova/Figue)
Nanaimo author co-editing historical anthology connecting Vikings and Muslims

Joshua Gilligham presents ‘Althingi – The Crescent and the Northern Star’

Saltair-based writer, Krista May. (Janet Kelly photo)
Island writers make long-list for 2021 CBC Short Story Prize

Krista May and Angie Ellis among 33 finalists selected out of over 3,000 entrants

Most Read