Tunniit: Retracing the Lines of Inuit Tattoos

“A young woman is on a journey to revive the ancient Inuit tradition of face tattooing. Inuit tattoos have been forbidden for a century, and almost forgotten. Alethea Arnaquq-Baril struggles to find out all she can before she is tattooed herself. She has met serious resistance from some of her fellow Inuit. However, a number of brave elders are willing to talk about the tattoos, and the massive and sudden cultural changes that caused their decline.”

Tunniit is an intensely personal film. It is about my journey to learn about traditional Inuit women’s face tattoos before getting tattooed myself. However, I think (I hope) it also speaks to a universal desire to feel part of a community.  A sense of identity is a necessary foundation for life that is often taken for granted by those who have never had their identity challenged or attacked.

This story takes place in the context of modern Inuit communities that are utterly confused by the staggering cultural changes wrought by the Canadian government, the Christian Church, and the reality of present day globalization. Today, evangelical Christianity is a shockingly strong force in arctic Inuit communities, causing tension around discussing anything that remotely touches on the old spiritual beliefs. The Inuit that attended residential schools, the generation that had their culture beaten out of them, and had their mouths washed out with soap when they spoke their native language – these people are hurting and confused. In some cases, the mere mention of traditional tattoos is enough to send a person into a spitting rage.

In this context, the dignity and bravery of the dozens of Inuit elders who were willing to go on camera to speak about the tradition of tattooing is awe-inspiring.

My personal struggle with these issues is laid out for the world to see in this film. I have felt touched and reassured to hear back from my fellow Inuit about what this film has meant to them. And though the process certainly upset and challenged my family at times, in the end we’ve come out stronger and closer for it.

Tunniit is now available for community screenings and can be booked online via Cinema Politica here. We also hope to have it available for individual purchase by VOD and DVD soon. If you would like to be added to a list of people to be contacted once DVDs become available, please go to the “mailing list” page on this site and sign up to be included on my very occasional updates (once-a-year-ish, typically less).

Also, I am often approached by men and/or non-native people, who are interested in getting these tattoos that are traditionally for Inuit women. Please watch this Q&A video here to see a discussion on this. You can also read a bit more about Inuit tattoos and cultural appropriation here.