The Journey Begins

As I begin this new leg of my journey I figured the best place to start is by reflection, a brief look at my journey into my studies at the University of British Columbia-Okanagan in Indigenous studies. Why this project? Why this subject? What is my connection to it, and why is it important?

My journey first began with the relationship between my father Larry Paul Kaszas and Maxine Mary Kaszas (McIvor), I was born in September on the 23rd day in the year 1977, in Shuswap Lake General Hospital in Salmon Arm British Columbia,Canada. The place of my birth is several miles away from my ancestral territory, without knowing it, this has had a huge impact on my life since that day in 1977. I was raised in a loving home with little traditional teachings from my Nlaka’pamux mother, or my Métis, Hungarian father. This is no fault of my parents but part of a history on the continent of North America, it is history that is speckled with acts of genocide and systematic violence.

The history of violence I am speaking of is one hidden from the view of most Canadians; the acts of genocide I am speaking of are the residential school system, funded by the Canadian government, and run by various churches. The systematic violence is revealed most strongly in the Indian Act, which defines out of existence countless Indigenous peoples across the nation state of Canada. Other evidence of Canada’s track record with Indigenous peoples including my ancestors is the theft of our land, and the reduction of people to small pockets as compared to those populations before the arrival of Europeans to this continent. This history influences us everyday, it has influenced me, like when growing up I wished I wasn’t recognized as Indian, Native or Aboriginal, yet I had a twinge of pride in the fact I was one of those things.

I began my adult life at age 22 by getting married and moving toSouth Dakotato train as a Bible worker in the Seventh-day Adventist church. My education was paid for by many faithful God fearing people, I was trained in three months and sent to minster in North West British Columbia, in the little of Hazelton. While there my heart was touched by the love and devotion of the Gitxsan people I came in contact with. After two years as a native ministry leader I went for further education atCanadianUniversityCollegeinLacombe,Alberta. While there my beliefs changed and I went from a Religious Studies Major to an Adventure Based counseling major. I withdrew from this institution, got divorced and began down a dark road.

The road I wondered down was one fueled by a lifestyle informed by a hedonistic conception of the world. While on this road I worked at numerous night clubs and moved from bouncer to doorman to management. I went through numerous empty relationships, and became an alcoholic. Through the love and support of my family and my amazing wife Jayne Kaszas I began on a different road, one fueled by recovery, and healing. Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and much soul searching brought me to the realization that I needed to be in school again.

My next move was to the university of Alberta Augustana campus in Camrose Alberta, where I was enrolled in a Religion/Philosophy degree. After one semester we moved back to Salmon Arm where I soon enrolled in a double major in Indigenous studies and philosophy at UBC-O. Where I became aware of the concept decolonization. After a short interruption of a year in my education at UBC-O due to open heart surgery I was graced with a academic mentor in my professor Margo Tamez. It was in her class Indigenous Peoples Historical perspectives which this journey into recovering the tattooing practices of my ancestors began. It was in conversation with her that I reconciled my love for tattooing and higher education. I was having a struggle which said you cannot serve two masters, either chose academia or tattooing. She said wisely why not join them.

I then began on this journey, by looking at a small booklet which I ran across in a local tattoo shop when I was getting tattoo work on my Maori inspired right sleeve. It was a small anthropology booklet entitled “Tattooing and Face and Body Painting of the Thompson Indians” by James Teit. This booklet coupled with a desire to reconnect with my ancestral past helped me to birth a Nlaka’pamux tattoo revival The following school year I completed a self directed study project that focused my attention on Indigenous tattoo revivals across the world, it also focused me on the undergraduate Research Award. Which is this project, one I am excited to be on.

I have experienced the exhilaration of skin stitch and hand poke tattooing like my ancestors did. I will be spending my summer looking for primary source documents which stand as a historical record of Nlaka’pamux tattooing, as a cultural practice. This research is also a act of decolonization, a way of reconnecting to was taken from me in the process of colonization. I do believe that I am a warrior of decolonization.

I welcome you to share in my journey.

Dion Kaszas

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