EPISODE 13 – HALIFAX
Written and directed by Courtney Montour
With over 20 years of machine tattoo experience, Mi’kmaw mask carver Gordon Sparks is turning his skills to handpoke tattooing. His journey of reconnecting to his roots began with traditional mask carving. Taught by master carver Ned Bear, Gordon’s masks are bringing him across Miꞌgmaꞌgi, the traditional territories of the Mi’kmaq where he is learning and sharing stories with Mi’kmaq Elders and communities.
“My name is Gordon Sparks, my clan mother is the beaver, clan spirit animal the bear, born from the Turtle River, and the salmon is our clan totem, raised in Pabineau First Nation, now living in Halifax N.S. Canada. I have been tattooing for over twenty years professionally across Mi’kma’ki.
Tattooing is a form of medicine to me that helps people through ruff times and good times, it helps heal their spirt, mind and body. There is a pain and blood sacrifice that is given in return to get a tattoo and to me this is where the power of a tattoo is at its strongest.
I have dedicated my life to tattooing and it’s taken me on a journey to be part of the indigenous tattoo revival, the style I am working on is to be a reflection of my Mi’kmaq culture, to become the tattoo style that will be known across the world as the Mi’kmaw tattoo, done with hand-poke tattooing, coil machine tattooing, and rotary machine tattooing.
The traditional hand-carved wooden mask has taken me on a vision path that is guiding my mind, body, and spirit to seek knowledge and wisdom of the Mi'kmaq people’s stories, traditional ceremonies, traditional food, and medicine. Each mask that I make is from my life story, and the people of Mi’kma’ki, and has a personal story on how I was guided to find the tree, take its life, carve the spirit out of the wood for all to see, and listen to what the mask has to say to ears that need to hear it. The vision I have been given guides my passion, and desire to record the past and present, with three-dimensional form. I strongly believe in the traditional hand-carved wooden mask, traditional ceremony and storytelling. Each mask speaks to me, guides me, the tree that is chosen speaks to me to carve the spirit of our ancestors and the stories of our life givers and life protectors that live here in Mi’kma’ki, to be shown to all people of the land. In the end the spirits of the trees will speak of my people of today and my ancestors of the past, through the wooden mask, storytelling, and the language of the land. My work as a Mi’kmaw traditional hand-carved wooden mask maker represents tradition for the Mi'kmaw people, to guarantee the preservation of traditional values, new and old ceremonies, oral storytelling, and the gathering of people to share in life stories together.”