Stephanie Big Eagle
Indy Like a Local
Who is Stephanie?
A handpoke tattoo artist, author, and activist.
Q: For those who don’t know, can you explain how handpoke tattoos are different from a traditional tattoo?
Sure! Handpoke tattoo is one of the oldest forms of tattooing, used by various Native American tribes, the Inuit, and other Indigenous nations across the world, such as in the Philippines. No electricity is used to insert ink, or pigment, under the skin, and while I use modern tattoo needles with this ancient tattooing method, sharpened bones, cactus needles, and other natural instruments were traditionally used. It is a more time-consuming method, like all handmade artistries, yet overall is less painful and less traumatic to the skin.
Q:Why is this artform so important to you?
It allows me to carry on a tradition, a way of life that was practiced by my ancestors, which was nearly decimated due to colonization. It empowers me to help others connect to their own history and to express that in a unique way.
Q: In what other ways do you carry on your Native American heritage?
I am a fancy shawl dancer, a dance from the Northern Plains tribes, which emulates the butterfly or hummingbird. I’ve traveled across the world to share this dance with others. I also travel back to my reservation to participate in our ceremonies several times a year. I speak what I can of our language in my daily prayers and teach my children whatever I can about our traditional ways and how to treat the Earth with respect.
Q: You live in Fountain Square. What are some of your favorite aspects of that neighborhood?
Fountain Square has some really unique architecture. I love going for walks here to just stare at people’s houses [laughs]. I love that the area is getting revamped and is standing out in an artistic sense. Not only that, it’s just close enough to downtown that it’s really easy to walk or ride a bike there, but just far enough away that I can still have peace without the sound of traffic while at home.
Q: What prompted you to write your book, Thunderbird Rising?
I’ve lost quite a few friends in the Indigenous community to suicide. The last one hit me really hard. I decided to write my book to cope with this loss, to help others who are struggling as I have many times in my life. I wanted others to know that they aren’t alone in their suffering and that there is always something more to hold on for, that we must never give up. I wanted to help others learn how to cling to the beauty that we find in this life to overcome the chaos, and the best way I could think to do this was to share my story of resilience, survival, and success against all odds.
Q: Do you have any favorite boutiques you like to shop, either for yourself or others?
I really love Silver in the City. They have beautiful jewelry and unique gift ideas for anyone. Also, they are huge supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement and have used their space to raise awareness in a positive and inspiring manner.
Q: Activism is also hugely important to you. How have recent events here and around the country/world inspired you?
In my experience with activism, there have been many moments where I’ve had to stand alone to fight for justice. Or there were times when a group of us had to walk away because there weren’t enough of us, or it just simply wasn’t the right time for our voices to be heard. What I see with recent events is that people are finally rising up together to say “No more!” There is nothing that we can’t change when we stand together, and that is what I have been waiting for so many years to see. Not only are we doing what we need to do, but we are realizing that it is our responsibility to rise and to demand change.
Q: What events do you like to attend each year?
Of course, the annual Indian Market & Festival at the Eiteljorg Museum is one of my favorites. I also love the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra’s Symphony on the Prairie and the Indiana State Fair.
Q: Any local arts organizations you like to support?
Keep Indianapolis Beautiful is a local organization that I like to support that beautifies the Fountain Square area to help foster the relationship between people and nature.
Q: Is there a specific park or other green space you like to visit?
I love to walk the trails at the Nina Mason Pulliam EcoLab. It’s filled with wetlands, beaver canals, and native plants that make for a wonderful, natural, country feel even while in the city.