Courtesy of Karonhioko’he Doxtater
Karonhioko’he Doxtater gave his sister his first tattoo with just a sewing needle and thread. She said her debut as a tattoo artist started out as a fluke, but six years later she had amassed a growing client list.
Doxtater availability is being booked through the Kanehsatake Traditional Aboriginal Tattoo Gathering this weekend, and the waiting list continues to grow. She will be one of eight performers at the rally, which opens to the public at 10 a.m. on Saturday morning.
While there’s no strict schedule, Katsi’tsaronhkwas organizer Stacey Pepin said there’s a lot to look forward to. Committee members planned sunrise tobacco burns and meals for volunteers and performers throughout the weekend, as well as a Saturday evening social. On Sunday, Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs are expected to speak at the rally.
Pepin said the event will be drug- and alcohol-free and dog-free. Organizers organized paramedics on site and worked alongside an employee from Kanesatake Health Center to reduce waste.
“We’re going to be conscientious and overall trying to do something good for our community,” Pepin said. “Because we’re known as 1990s people, but that’s not all we have.”
Doxtater said it was activism that made her consider tattooing people outside her family. At a tattoo fundraiser for Standing Rock in 2016, a well-known artist saw Doxtater’s work on her sister and gave her a set of needles.
“I do handpoke because we’re starting to revitalize it,” she said. “It was something everyone knew about, but not many people did it because of the stigma.”
Doxtater, originally from Kahnawake, specializes in traditional Iroquois design and is inspired by pottery and ancient paintings. She said her mother, Dr. Kahente Horn-Miller, a professor at Carleton University, focuses her research on Haudenosaunee traditions and often shared drawings and artifacts with her. She said tattoos are an important tradition to revive.
“The younger generations are taking responsibility for bringing it all back,” Doxtater said. “It’s us digging down the roots, finding out where we come from and being proud of our roots again, because we were taught not to be.”
Over the years, Doxtater has tattooed his mother and other family members, but his clientele list in the community continues to swell with word of mouth referrals. She said she was very much looking forward to being in community with other artists over the weekend.
“I think these gatherings are so important because you can actually get together and talk to each other. Not just on social media, but face to face,” Doxtater said. “Everyone is so open to sharing in these spaces, which is why it’s so important to have these events for this revitalization.”
Leilani Shaw, an artist from Kahnawake, started learning to tattoo during the pandemic and shares Doxtater’s excitement about meeting other Indigenous artists in the community.
“I’ve never tattooed with more than two people in the room, so I’m really looking forward to seeing more tattoo styles and methods,” Shaw said. “Tattooing in my own studio gave me the opportunity to really focus on the art, but now I really want to see what else is out there in the tattoo community.”
Shaw specializes in surrealism and is inspired by traditional legends. She is best known for her corncob pin-up dolls, which are her own take on native legends.
“To me, that feels more like the essence of how our stories were meant to be understood,” Shaw said. “From what I always learned, stories could be interpreted in so many different ways. And in the artwork, it contains the story.
Organizers said they hoped to bring back a calm and spiritual event for the young people attending the rally.
“The feeling I had when I went to the tattoo gathering in our sister community in Tyendinaga, which I hope will resonate with our gathering, was very welcoming, calm, spiritual and ceremonial,” Pepin said. “And you know, people might shed tears because it might be part of a journey for them.”