Gihlee'ehl ts'iksna'ak sim ayukws
Tattooing Our Maternal Crests
Gihlee'e is the process of stitching an image with a needle. Today the Elders use this word when talking about embroidery; however, we originally used this word to describe the "tattooing" process.
Ts'iksna'aks today can refer to a carved metal bracelet. Prior to the missionaries convining us "tattooing" was a sinful practice we used this world to describe the "tattooed" crests on our bodies.
Ayukws translates to our tribal crests, which we follow maternally.
I am working with our Nisga'a Elder's to revive our ancient gihlee'e (tattooing process). Ts'iksna'aḵs (tattoos) were usually composed of ayukws (crests), and/or adaawaḵ (story/legend/history).Ts'iksna'aḵs were reserved for Simgigat (chiefs) and Royalty. Simgigat would have ts'iksna'aḵs to go along with their name. When a name was passed down through the family, the person receiving the name was required to go through gihlee'e and receive the same ts'iksna'aḵs. This upheld adaawaḵ and ayuuḵ (law). We had cultural protocol around the transformation process. Ultimately it was the Chief who decided who was getting a ts'iksna'aḵs. Ts'iksna'aḵs were worn with a purpose. It was the responsibility of the individual wearing the art to share the adaawaḵ of the imagery. Great responsibility came with the privilege. Artists were paid handsomely for their time and artwork. Gihlee'e was an honoured and respected practice. It was a practice that upheld belief's, stories, law, and protocol. It tied individuals to the feast hall, their Chief's, their communities, their land, stories and songs.