Not the way I thought. Tattoos are in style.
You’ve told me over and over: It’s a “cultural shift” that’s been happening — that people are increasingly interested in more subtle symbols such as tattoos or head scarves. Why are these two things becoming more popular? What could be behind this cultural shift?
The truth is that we wear our tattoos with a whole lot of pride. But the fact is the cultural shift is much more complicated than anyone thinks. People in the West are very much in awe of the tribal symbols. They look at us in awe. In the tribal culture we use feathers around our eyes — which doesn’t go on anyone else’s skin. So a lot of tribal people see the tattoos and think, “Wow that’s cool. I wonder what it’s all about?”
As for me, what the tattoos mean to me is the symbolism of these tribes. The fact that they have some meaning in some way, that is what is so important to me, and that’s where I draw my attention — how does that relate to the world around me?
You’ve said we aren’t so different from our other ancestors in terms of tribal affiliation — that we’re more “Americanized” than our ancestors. Is this fair?
I don’t think that we’ve gotten to a point where we are Americanized. In fact, we haven’t become Americanized. We are Americans in a different way. Our ancestors were part of a larger group called the Iroquoian people from northern New York and the upper Hudson River. This is what they did; they were part of this broader Native American culture from which many of our ancestors descended. It wasn’t always like that, however. We did have some very primitive society.
It may seem unfair to the Native Americans themselves, but I believe that this cultural shift represents an evolution of how we’ve looked at society as it relates to different aspects of life, including health and health care. They’re not in the habit of saying, “That’s not a good thing for me to do.”
You also wrote in your book that the term indigenous person is something you’ve personally adopted as a way to separate yourself — a way to stand out from the crowd, as is the case with people who practice tattoos. But the way this concept is used today is misleading. Is there any truth to the notion that you and others wear these things because they reflect a belief that your Native heritage must be
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