Tattooing was practiced among members of Native American tribes for thousands of years. Native Americans tattooed themselves by cutting their skin with sharp objects and rubbing dye into the cuts. Cactus needles, fish bones, pine needles, bird bones, sharp stones, or other sharp objects pricked the skin and pigments such as charcoal, cedar-leaf ashes, or other materials were used to make red, blue, or green tattoos on the skin. People, especially men, would often tattoo themselves, though some, such as children, would be tattooed by someone else.

The Aleut people of the Arctic used soot to tattoo lines on their face and hands. Tattooing was common among Eskimo men and women, who marked their faces with short thick lines. Eskimo children were also tattooed. Boys were tattooed on their wrists after their first kill, and girls were tattooed after their first menstruation. Among the tribes of California and the Pacific Northwest, women tattooed their chins with at least three lines but sometimes included other lines at the corners of their mouth or on their nose, which served as a type of spiritual protection for them. The men of some tribes, such as the Seminole of the Southeast, covered their bodies in tattoos. Seminole boys received their first tattoo when they were given their first name and earned more tattoos as they learned the art of war. By the time a Seminole man reached old age, he could be covered from head to toe with tattoos. Members of tribes throughout the Great Basin (a desert region in the western United States that comprises parts of many western states), Northeast, Plains, Plateau, Southeast, and Southwest also tattooed themselves with a variety of designs all over their bodies. Even though the practice was widespread, tattooing faded from practice in the early nineteenth century.


Hofsinde, Robert. Indian Costumes. New York: William Morrow, 1968.

Hungry Wolf, Adolf. Traditional Dress: Knowledge and Methods of Old-Time Clothing. Summertown, TN: Book Publishing Co., 1990.

Paterek, Josephine. Encyclopedia of American Indian Costume. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 1994.

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