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Tattoo designs - N >> Native American

Native America tattoo designsNative American Tattoo Design Meanings - Native American tattoo designs and symbols - much like tattoos designs described as "Polynesian tattooing" - is an enormous area of tattooing culture to cover. As in Polynesia with the many diverse far-flung cultures of the South Pacific, native North America was and is made up of hundreds and hundreds of culturally distinctive indigenous peoples.

Traditional tattooing in North America has largely disappeared, with isolated exceptions. The primary reasons for this were a combination of the early colonization of much of the continental United States by European settlers, Canada, and Mexico and the practice of religious conversion of the native populations and widespread pressures for the indigenous peoples to abandon their traditional spiritual and cultural practices and become assimilated into the European population.

Native America tattoo designsThat tattooing was a common practice among the native peoples, or first nations of North America, is extensively and well documented in the journals and writings of early explorers, adventurers and religious leaders. Unfortunately there are not nearly as many instances of pictorial evidence to show what the tattoos of early Native American Indians actually looked like. But we do know that all along the East Coast, all the way from Florida to the St. Lawrence River, that native populations practiced body art and tattooing. The tribes belonging to the Iroquois Federation distinguished themselves by tattooing clan and family tattoo symbols as forms of identification.

Native America tattoo designsIn North-eastern America the tribes of the Iroquois Federation, which arose in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries were by no means a single group, but bound by a common language, consisted of the Onondaga, Mohawk, Oneida, Seneca and Cayuga and eventually the Tuscarora peoples. The other prominent Iroquois-speaking tribe in the Northeast were the Hurons and their allies. Other prominent tribes in the area were Algonquin, Ojibway and Mohican (made famous by James Fenimore Cooper). There are written accounts that show that all of these tribes tattooed and paintings of prominent Chiefs done at the time show tattoos. Interestingly, like the Haida of the Pacific Northwest, the cultures were matrilineal and women owned the land, individuals traced their lineage through their mothers and women played a significant political role, including the selection of Chiefs.

The Mohawk tribe was organized into three clans and were represented by the Turtle, Wolf and Bear. Other Iroquois Federation Clans were Snipe, Deer, Heron, Beaver and Eel. There are differing accounts of the clans and their relationships, but each clan had distinctive forms of identification, including tattooing.

Indians further to the south, most notably the Cherokee, were noted for their tattooing.

Native America tattoo designsTo the East, the Cree were noted for being tattooed, the women usually with several facial lines, but the men often heavily tattooed with a variety lines and figures.

On the Great Plains, the Blackfoot peoples were described as being tattooed, as were the Sioux. However it is important to note that among the Sioux, women were tattooed and not the men.

The exceptions to this in terms of records and documentation were Captain Cook and his crew in Hawaii, and the work of early ethnographers such as Swan did among the Haida in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries of the Pacific Northwest coast of the continent, and in the far north in Canada and in Alaska. As they were among the last places in the North American continent to be colonized and settled, there was a far greater interest in the cultures of the indigenous people. In the case of the Haida, we have literally hundreds of images of designs that were used as tattoo marking for the Eagle and Raven Clans and their many sub-sects, Killer Whale, Salmon, Hummingbird, Wolf, Bear, Cod, Frog and many more. And in addition to the many Haida Clan Crest designs, there are thousands of more designs depicting the mythology, legends and stories of the Haida people.

Native America tattoo designsIn terms of spiritual beliefs and practices, many indigenous cultures in North America practiced a form of Shamanism, in which much of the living world around us, the animals, the land, including plants and trees, are imbued with spirits. Different cultural groups often had a Medicine man, Shaman or Elder, someone who was recognized as having a special gift, to act as an intermediary on behalf of individuals to appease, negotiate with or seek the help and guidance of the spirits. Animals in particular were believed to act or serve as spirit guides for both individuals and for tribes. Many cultures believed in the power of medicine bags, small pouches that contained items believed to have special powers to protect a person, and like a tattoo, serve as a charm, amulet and talisman. These items might be feathers from certain birds, animal claws or teeth, plant items, small bones or stones.

See this list of important North American spirit animals and guides.

In choosing a tattoo design, any person wishing to honour their native heritage would have to take great care and caution and be prepared to some research and seek out members of their community to ensure that a traditional tattoo - if that is what an individual is seeking - is accurate and truly reflects the heritage of their ancestry.

Native American Inspiration Gallery - Click here to get inspired!For others wishing to pay homage to the many amazing native cultures of North America there are literally hundreds of different tattoo designs and symbols to chose from.

Get inspired by some really great images and photos in our Native American Inspiration Gallery

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Tattoo designs - N >> Native American

Tattoo Symbol Index - A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

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