Quannah Chasinghorse decided when she was 14 years old that she wanted a traditional native face tattoo. She grew up in Fairbanks, Alaska and has since impressed the fashion world at the age of 19. When she saw in images how her Gwich’in ancestors, wore three chin lines or Yidįįłtoo, she wanted to bring this phenomenon back to herself. She asked her mother Jody Potts- Joseph if she would set the markings for her.
Although Jody had never tattooed anyone before, this one agreed immediately. Using a stick-and-poke technique, she set to work, using skin needles attached to a pen and a jar of gray ink. According to mother Jody, it was a healing moment for her daughter, she felt that each poke with the skin needles gave Quannah strength.
A few months after getting her daughter’s tattoo, Jody herself was inspired to reclaim the Yidįįłtoo for herself. In doing so, she enlisted the help of her 16-year-old son. As a single mother, Potts-Joseph is convinced that getting the tattoos, along with her daughter, brought the family closer together. In a way, the process provided them with a sense of healing after enduring financial and personal hardship. The markings serve not only as a proud symbol of indigeneity, but also as a symbol of resilience.
Many indigenous women in Alaska are increasingly carrying this idea, recapturing the Yidįįłtoo and giving the face tattoos a new strong meaning. The lines represent a rite of passage. Traditionally, native girls get their first tattoo when she becomes a woman. During a girl’s first cycle, they learn the responsibilities of womanhood and receive their first markings. These markings occur on the chin, corners of the eyes and cheeks.
The Yidįįłtoo is a tradition that is 10,000 years old. The ritual was always used as a method of emotional healing, tribal identification and to show warrior status. There were 9 groups of Gwich’in the interior of Alaska. The distance and width of the chin marks differed according to which group they came from.