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The face of Inuk culture

Ben Morgan
Northern News Services
Published Monday, June 9, 2008

BRIDGEWATER, N.S. - A former resident of Umingmaktuuq is doing her part to help revive an old Inuit tradition.

Angela Hovak Johnston, currently living on Nova Scotia's south shore, recently had her face tattooed in celebration of her Inuit heritage. Her particular facial tattoo has three lines on each side of the face - symbolic, she said, of her three children.

"My husband loves it," she said.

Johnston has been thinking about her cultural heritage and the traditional ways for a long time.

"I've always been fascinated and knew some day I would get it done," she said, adding the experience was very powerful.

"When I was getting it done ... I had flashes of my ancestors and how strong they were."

Traditionally, Inuit facial tattooing involved a bone needle and soot-stained sinew and is said to have been quite painful. The women who wore them were considered very brave, partly for that reason.

Johnston had her tattoo inked with contemporary equipment.

She will be moving back to Kugluktuk in just a few weeks with her husband.

Eunice Panigayak, a teacher at Netsilik school in Taloyoak, said facial tattoos used to be quite common.

"In past generations, 80 to 90 per cent of Inuit women wore the tattoos," she said.

Johnston fears the art is now being lost to history, as Inuit facial tattooing has nearly disappeared from the Northern landscape in modern times, with but a few exceptions.

She hopes her tattoo will be an inspiration to others who might decide to have their own faces decorated in this traditional way.