Native American Tattoos as Imprints of Life

May 12, 2016

Native American Tattoos as Imprints of Life


A tattoo of a Cherokee Chief baring an Indian headdress is etched on your left arm eyeing a fist-size dreamcatcher on your right. They usher a dramatic introduction to a silent skit stamped at your back; two wolves howling in the deep forest humbled by the moonlight echoing the blackness of the night. You are a walking reminder of the wonders of the Native American culture. You’re spiritual, you’re free, and you’re paying tribute.

Or are you?

(Photo via Tattoostime)


Nature, spirit, life, what’s not to like? Native American tattoos paint a deeper meaning of life. They act as physical imprints of Mother Nature and spurs an intense connection to what is seen and not. Aside from beauty expressed in forms that usually bears a short and sweet meaning, they came from a long line of awe-inspiring interpretations. It goes beyond words, so profound, that the sheer sight of it gathers an understanding between their universal tongues.

From the Break of Dawn

Old-school inking in North America slowly vanished when European settlers, Canada, and Mexico colonized in the US, together with the conversion of their beliefs and desertion of their spiritual practices to further blend with the European dwellers. But thanks to the dauntless peoples who kept the art alive, it’s still here with us, effervescent more than ever.

As much as we’re eager to see a century-old relic of tattooed Americans Indians, their skin couldn’t eternalize their life scripts after death. What we do know is it’s a common practice that is scribbled in the journals of explorers, travelers and religious heads before our great grandparents’ time.

Deep Meanings
From celestial bodies to power animals or totem, tribes were branded by wearing their signature tattoos. It’s likely to wear a totem in various parts of our body designed by mod changes, but during their time, it’s usually etched on the chest. 

Another significance is the rite of passage ink that acts as a trademark in a huge leap of a person’s life such as coming of age or initiations. Just like earning an Indian headdress being the Chief of a tribe, a special mark is also gifted when displaying one’s role in society or raking the rank. And when it comes to warfare, they bring power to intimidation tattoos in the form of scary creatures exuding a tough aura to scare their enemies off their lands.

Aside from being a skin armor or a war mask, Native American tattoos are also said to be mystical. They’re convinced that having such imprints would give them supernatural powers, coming from the belief of Shamanism where every breathing entity around us imbued spirits. Thus, animals were labelled as spirit guides and are used as faces of totems. Feathers, plants, stones, and medicine bags also acted as emblems or charm for protection believing there’s power in it, just like a tattoo.

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Tools and Techniques
Tattooing tools seemed like a treasure hunt for early anthropologists as they were vaguely recognizable and in turn left many likely riggings misidentified. Even more so is tracing a human blood or a pigment’s existence in an artifact. It’s a far-stretch looking at the way we do tattooing now compared to their old ways. Our hand-gripped machines like little jackhammers is incomparable to the peoples’ tools. It’s as natural as it gets - sharpened bone or rock filled with soot vivifying the wound as it is carves into the flesh releasing the print to a lifetime depiction. Now, it’s more than a pretty sticker but a painful significance.

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Soot or bone black from charring animal bones creates the blackness of pigments when smeared, while brown or reddish tattoos were achieved by dabbing ochre mixed with clay. And with the help of Indigo, natural blue dyes are added to the palette, same as when coloring from grass or cobwebs were rubbed into the wound if a blue-green color was desired. As for Maidu tattoos, a different approach was made by pricking the skin with pine needles or bird bones, then rubbing a red pigment into the symbol. Men could also be draped with upright streaks that begins from the tip of the nose tattooed in the chest, stomach and arms.


Before You Get another Indian-Inspired Tattoo…

Many tattoo enthusiasts are opting to identify themselves with Native American tattoos and their tribes, but mistaken other kinds of tribal tattoos to Native American. The price to know is not that high. Although this is common to those with Native American heritage, it’s also budding to those who simply admire the culture. With the widespread wonder for such a beautiful ethos, these tattoos became in-demand. The thing is, if you are Native American getting to know the intimate art of your ancestors, don’t just settle for the aesthetics and do your homework. Because of their rapid interest, those who have recently felt connected to the Native heritage have erroneously picked the wrong images and have gotten tattoos from the wrong tribes. It’s similar to the Indian headdress outbreak in the last few years where tons of trend seeders naively followed a fad and wore Indian headdresses without knowing of its purpose. Just like everything else, it’s safer to know what you’re getting into.

These tattoos were originally used as a way of lasting tribal badge, so parading the wrong tribe's tattoo will initially label you as an outcast. And even though you’ve displayed the right one from a tribe you’ve never encountered, it will still make you seem indifferent, like trying to be something you’re not. But for most of us who can’t help but sense an obscure infatuation to Native American tattoos through dreamcatchers, Indian headdresses, and other stunners, there is no compelling reason to stress over the authenticity of the tattoo. It’s all good.


What’s Your Sign?

While an eagle represents honor, respect and freedom, a turtle dignifies longevity, health and fertility. An owl maybe seen for its wisdom and a wolf can be portrayed as an intelligent and loyal character. Whichever you cherry-pick to sketch on your skin, it is equally amazing.

Here are some of the most beautiful tattoos inspired by Native Americans:

1. Dreamcatcher

Wherever it is embedded, the tattoo shows that darker dreams are pushed aside and good dreams are invited to take refuge to the one who wears the ink.

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2. Indian Headdress

Before being crafted to an Indian headdress, warriors receive a feather for each of their Indian Headdress daring act.

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3. Native American Woman

There is no denying of their timeless grace and with their mystic rites performed, it shows the world how beautifully unworldly they are.

(Picture via


4. Wolf

As much as it’s deemed to be loyal and clever, the wolf symbol is also to embody control and leadership but when mimicked for evil, it can also mean destruction.


5. Eagle

Some Native American Indian tribes saw the eagle as the Thunderbird, and named it an Eagle envoy of the skies.

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From feathered-haired woman portraits to Chiefs on Indian headdresses, dreamcatcher fixations to arrow head marks, and piercing eagles to wolf packs on a hunt, Native American tattoos tell a story. Not just any story, but the ones engraved in history. Choosing a seemly sign foretells a person’s soul and by wearing it, a millennia of times past unfolds.