Inuit Women Producing Film about Tribal Tattoos Project

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Inuit Women Producing Film about Tribal Tattoos Project

Holly Mititquq Nordlum and Maya Sialuk Jacobsen are making a tattoo documentary titled Tupik Mi, but Alaska is making it difficult.

There are currently a number of incredible projects involving the resuscitation of Inuit culture through the reintroduction of traditional tribal tattooing. For instance, we recently covered the activities of The Inuit Tattoo Revitalization Project. This group, however, is just one of the awesome organizations of Inuit women seeking to bring back a form of cultural expression that colonialism nearly erased.     

Another like-minded duo of Inuit women, Holly Mititquq Nordlum and Maya Sialuk Jacobsen, are also investing their time and energy into this extremely important curatorial work in their own unique way. However, their efforts are disappointingly being delayed do to a lack of funding and resistance on the behalf of the Alaskan government due to a conflict between the state's regulation of the tattoo industry and indigenous rights.   

Alongside their primary project to reinstate this tradition of tattooing in Inuit communities, they are also making a documentary titled Tupik Mi that will chronicle their efforts to restore the ancient art form. Not long ago, they were awarded a $10,000 grant from the Alaska Humanities Forum to help fund the project and corresponding film, and it is well underway. Here is a trailer in which Nordlum explains the mission behind the project and documentary.  

As mentioned before in our posts about the subject, the work that female Inuit tattoo artists are doing is some of the most important happening in the world of tattoos right now, and it needs more support to become a reality. 

"This project cannot go on if we don't get help"—Nordlum

These markings, like those seen on both Nordlum's and Jacobsen's faces, are more than bodily adornments. They represent each women's ties to their communities and cultural heritage. Simply put, without this sort of body art, a part of their culture would be lost. 

The plan of the project behind the documentary is to run a month-long workshop to train Inuit women to become proficient in the practices of tattooing — methods like hand-poking and skin-stitching included — so that the tradition can be handed down from generation to generation as it was before their lands were colonized nearly a century ago.

The project has amassed some captivating footage already, putting their initial funding to excellent use. Check out this short yet informative excerpt below. Though this is important culturally restorative work, their organization has unfortunately incurred resistance from government agencies along the way.

Regrettably, there have been some major stumbling blocks for Nordlum, and it involves discrepancies between Alaska's regulations on the tattoo industry and the sovereignty of indigenous cultural practices. The state not only sanctioned her for the tattooing she's already done, it claims that Nordlum filed her paperwork late, and this is the reason that the hours she's already amassed don't count toward getting her tattooing license. 

Though the state regulatory agency asserts that Nordlum has submitted unsatisfactory paperwork, she argues that it has been difficult to work with them. She said the following in an interview with Alaska Public Media.

“All I’ve been asking for for two years is someone to talk to me and work with me...and there is no response"— Nordlum

The agency in question here is Alaska's Division of Corporations, Business, and Professional Licensing, which attests that it is simply trying to maintain the hygienic standards put in place by the state. The agency's representative, Sara Chambers, claims that if Nordlum had been more diligent about turning in the proper documents this whole situation wouldn't be occurring.  

"The casual hobbyist sometimes has to ask themselves whether they plan to meet the standards required by the legislature"—Chambers.

A statement like this comes off as extremely insensitive considering that what Nordlum is doing far exceeds the activities of a "casual hobbyist." She is attempting to revive an art form that the government is responsible for erasing, and now it seems that the state is repressing Inuit tattooing once more. 

There is no question that while health concerns are important in the world of tattoos, Alaska needs to be doing a better job of helping organization like Nordlum's achieve their goals, because Inuit and other indigenous cultures deserve more respect from the government. Furthermore, it is questionable whether or not the state should even have jurisdiction over indigenous tattooing at all.  According to the UN's Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Inuit individuals maintain the right to control and protect their expressions of cultural traditions, tattoos included.  

Because Nordlum sees this as an issue of tribal sovereignty, she is continuing with her project in lieu of the chance she will be prosecuted by the state for it. We think it will be wonderful to see this project come to fruition against all the odds. If you feel up to helping them make this dream a reality, their organization is accepting donations on the film's website. It's a cause that's worth supporting, so please do contribute if you can.

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