Celebrating Our Beauty

Project Spotlight: An Indigenous short on women’s tattooing heritage.

ᓄᓇᖃᖅᑳᖅᓯᒪᔪᑦ ᐱᒋᔭᖏᑦ ᓴᖅᑭᑎᑦᑎᓂᖅ ᖃᕆᓴᐅᔭᓕᕆᔾᔪᑏᑦ
Photo of from the side of Kunaq Marjorie Tahbone using a tattooing hand tool and leaning over Ch’eelil Peter, who is laying down.

The documentary short Celebrating Our Beauty (2021)—directed and written by Alexis Anoruk Sallee (Iñupiaq); produced and written by Princess Daazhraii Johnson (Gwich’in)—was created for the 2021 Native Peoples’ Heritage Month. This all-Alaska Native cast and crew production features Johnson’s 14-year-old niece Ch’eelil Peter as the narrator. Peter shares her experience receiving a tattoo given by Kunaq Marjorie Tahbone (Iñupiaq, Kiowa). Click here to watch the one-minute video

Photo of from the side of Kunaq Marjorie Tahbone using a tattooing hand tool and leaning over Ch’eelil Peter, who is laying down.
Kunaq Marjorie Tahbone giving a chin tattoo to Ch’eelil Peter in “Celebrating Our Beauty.” COURTESY PRINCESS DAAZHRAII JOHNSON.

Johnson shared with Fairbanks reporter Jameka Lache Horton (Nov. 27, 2021) that “we want young people and other viewers to recognize beauty comes in all shapes, sizes, forms, and looks. This [facial marking] is our traditional makeup, and this is beautiful to us.” 

The video’s transcription is a great read: “Long before these buildings, long before others defined our beauty, our ancestors carried markings of pride. When outsiders came, my community stopped doing them. My grandmother was the first Gwich’in woman to bring them back. Today, I’m surrounded by strong matriarchs, who carry these markings. For me, this is a part of my coming-of-age ceremony. My markings remind me of my responsibility to my family and to my culture. It is a way to let people know we are here. It is a way to show our strength. I’m Diné, Tohono O’odham and Gwich’in. I wear my markings with pride. Today and every day, we celebrate the First Peoples of these lands.”

Photo of Ch’eelil Peter showing her chin tattoo, a single black line. She wears a floral beaded headband and a cloth parka with fur ruff.
“Celebrating Our Beauty” (still) (2021). COURTESY PRINCESS DAAZHRAII JOHNSON.

Author Biography

Dawn Biddison is the Museum Specialist at the Alaska office of the Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center. Since 2002, she has worked with Alaska Native Elders, artists, educators, scholars, knowledge-keepers and cultural organization staff. Her work began with museum research, exhibition, catalog and website work. Since 2010, her work shifted to outreach with Alaska Natives through collaborative community-based cultural heritage projects that include facilitating museum collections access, artist residencies, community workshops, public programs and equitable documentation that respects Indigenous protocols and goals, supports intergenerational learning, and provides ongoing, accessible educational resources through print and online distribution. You can see examples of her work on the Smithsonian Learning Lab site, “Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center in Alaska.”



This article was funded in part by a grant from the United States Department of State. The opinions, findings and conclusions stated herein are those of the author[s] and do not necessarily reflect those of the United States Department of State.

This story is part of the Alaska Spotlight. View more content from the Spotlight here.