I was born in Honolulu, Hawaii as a "military brat." My father, who is Lakota and Dakota Sioux, was then a Marine, and my mother, who is Irish, Norse, and Mohawk, was about to enlist in the Air Force. This is how my journey as a world traveler began, but the perspective was flipped from that of the military influence of my childhood, to the Indigenous activist influence of my adulthood.
I was raised with almost no teachings of my Native heritage and culture. My parents separated when I was three, and with my father out of the picture, I didn't even know that I was Lakota and Dakota until I became an adult. I was adopted and raised in a racist and abusive environment, which made me uncomforable in my brown skin. I was lost in an identity crisis. This lasted until I was 21, when my ancestors started coming into my dreams and showing me beautiful visions. These visions were powerful enough to penetrate my self-shame and inspired me to reconnect with my father and my family on the Yankton Sioux reservation in South Dakota. At 23, I re-united with my father and relatives there after 20 years! I attended my first wacipi, or powwow, and my whole life shifted. I remember watching the fancy shawl dancers, and I said to myself that I would dance like that one day! I also remember feeling at home for the first time in my skin as I looked at so many familiar faces with the same darker skin and sharpened features.
One year later, I was gifted my first shawl, and began fancy shawl dancing. It must've been in my blood, because no one taught me, I just watched, then danced, and haven't stopped. Dancing helped heal my soul, and brought me back to my people.
I began to pour myself into our history as Native American people in general. As I became more educated in the injustices our people have faced -- particularly genocide, broken treaties, prisoner of war camps or reservations, boarding schools, the outlawing of cultural practices, and more -- I became both an Environmental and Indigenous Activist. I was honored to stand with many other activists at Standing Rock against the Dakota Access Pipeline which was forcibly being laid through our treaty territory and which destroyed several sacred sites. It was at this same time that I apprenticed as a handpoke tattoo artist. I was offered this apprenticeship so that I could help my tribe revitalize our ancient tattoo practices. I am now a full-time handpoke tattoo artist who travels around the world working with the people of my tribe, as well as with other native tribes and people of all colors and backgrounds. I share my gifts as an artist of many forms with love, gratitude, and respect, particularly for the ancestors who paved the way so that we can still have life today, and for the children who are our bright future.
Check out my debut novel, my memoir, Thunderbird Rising!
Thank you for visiting my site!
~Stephanie Big Eagle