It’s so ironic that we should be celebrating the fact that people like Tessa Thompson are coming forth and showing how much they respect tribal heritage and culture. But we’re doing a lousy job of it because our own cultural institutions and government leaders are often hostile to these efforts. They will fight for the status quo, and as a result, we are only seeing a continuation of the status quo. There were even efforts to ban all or part of cultural practices like drumming.
The tribal tattoo debate is a perfect example of the many conflicting interests being involved in tribal tattoos. Are tattoos an expression of culture or a form of expression of culture? Are tattoo colors symbolic or symbolic? Is it a message of honor or a message of disrespect? Many people want tribal tattoos, and many people want tribal leaders and tribal councils to be more inclusive and supportive of these choices.
In my opinion, all tattoo designs should have some symbolic meaning that helps to express and illustrate some sense of tribal identity. There are hundreds of different design possibilities, some of which are quite meaningful—like a tribal flag, or a tribal eagle. Tribal leaders, tribes, tribal members and people all use different names when referring to the same ideas, even though they all are connected. People of different ethnicities or even those who identify as Native Americans have similar identities. Many Native Americans choose to do tribal tattoos just because that’s what they’re passionate about.
What do you think of the cultural appropriateness of tattoos to Native Americans?
It’s fascinating how fast cultural changes happen so fast in the United States. It seems like we’re all trying to figure out what is culturally appropriate and what is culturally insensitive. A lot of what people see as “appropriateness” is simply cultural appropriation, not cultural respect.
I think it’s fair to say that the tribal tattoo debate in the United States has largely come down to how to define tribal tattoo designs.
In the past, tribal design was not defined by the tribal entity. It was defined as the design associated with the tribe and generally related to the tribe. We now refer to the most recent tribal tattoos as “tribal designs.” That’s what I call the term that I use.
The question I have has always been, should there be more tribal tattoos? There are millions of tribal tattoos around the world, so why aren’t there more tribal tattoos in the United States?
It’s a question that should be up for debate. I hope that as
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