Cheyenne indian tattoo

Cheyenne indian tattoo DEFAULT

Inspiring Native American Tattoos by Cheyenne Sawyer

As thought-provoking as they are inspiring, the tattoos of Sawyer are something everyone should see. Native American imagery, tradition and culture has been one of the biggest inspirations in western tattooing and remains so today. However, few tattoo artists have the understanding and respect for the culture like Cheyenne Sawyer. A print maker and painter turned into tattoo artist, Sawyer currently tattoos from Atlas, Portland, and is widely known for his Native American-inspired designs. With a bold traditional style, Sawyer draws great influence from decorative Native American arts and his tattoos reflect an incredible understanding.

The tattoos Sawyer is creating are beautiful, combining his dynamic traditional style with Native American patterns and imagery. Paying tribute to a traditional art form and people, the work of Sawyer is impressive.

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You might also like: November is Native American Heritage Month

Thunderbird Tattoo by Cheyenne Sawyer #thunderbird #nativeamerican #nativeamaericanart #nativeamericandesign #traditional #CheyenneSawyer
Wolf Tattoo by Cheyenne Sawyer #wolf #nativeamerican #nativeamaericanart #nativeamericandesign #traditional #CheyenneSawyer

All images via Instagram.

Robert Davies

Written byRobert Davies

Tattoodo Staff Writer and tattoo enthusiast. Lover of all things traditional and blackwork!


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Getting a Native American Tattoo

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The Trouble With Tribal Designs

The latest hot question filling my email box, usually from young people with American Indian ancestry, is "What are the traditional designs for Cherokee (or Apache, or Mohawk, or any other Native American) tribal tattoos? Because my grandmother was part Cherokee (or Apache, or Mohawk) and I want to honor my heritage."

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Well, this isn't a bad question on the face of it. Many American Indian tribes do have traditions of tribal tattoo art. In some tribes this tradition is unbroken, and in others it's being revived by Indian young people. However, if you are writing to me and asking this question, I would encourage you to consider three things:

1. You may have Indian heritage, but you do not have an actual connection with your ancestors' tribe, otherwise you would have family members to ask about your tribe's tattoo tradition rather than asking me.

2. People who have Indian heritage but no actual connection with their ancestors' tribe are often wrong about their ancestors' tribal affiliation! (You wouldn't believe how many people have been looking for an impossible-to-locate Cherokee great-grandmother, only to find that they'd wasted years bcause she was actually Assiniboine and everyone just called her Cherokee because they'd never heard of the Assiniboines.)

3. You should assume that getting a tattoo will be PERMANENT. Sometimes they can remove tattoos later (which is extremely expensive) but other times they can't remove them completely and you would still have a partial tattoo pattern or a permanent scar. So if you get a Native American tattoo, plan on keeping it.

Now, combine these three things. Say you're a young man who really wants to connect with your grandmother's people, really want to make that a part of your life, so you get an elaborate Cherokee facial tattoo. Then you find out she was really Assiniboine. Now you've got a problem--a lot of Indians are skeptical of young non-Indians rediscovering Indian roots anyway, think they're not very serious. You think the Assiniboines are going to accept you as one of them when you have Cherokee tattoos all over your face. (In Sioux cultures men don't even tattoo their faces, only women do, so you'll look like an idiot going over and claiming to be related to them.)

Now if you have a tribal identity already--you belong to a tribe, or you have third cousins who do and you visit them every year, or something like that--then great, go for it, worse that happens is you get old and fat and the tatoo doesn't look good anymore like the one I got in the army. But if you are looking for a tribal identity, and you would maybe like to be accepted as a mixed-blood Indian someday, or at least you don't want actual Indians to laugh at you when you introduce yourself, please do yourself a favor and hold off on the Native American tattoos until you are actually affiliated with the tribe in question. Use your common sense: if American Indian tattoos were originally used as a form of permanent tribal identification, then putting on the wrong tribe's tattoo will permanently mark you as an outsider. Do you really want to risk that? For that matter, even putting on a correct tattoo from a tribe you've never even been to visit will give you some negative reactions too (just like putting on army tattooes when you've never been a soldier would).

In other words, if you have to ask a stranger about it over the Internet, you probably really do not want to be getting a Native American tribal tattoo. You run the risk of achieving exactly the opposite effect from the one you were hoping for: distancing yourself from your people, or even mis-honoring an ancestor. Tread carefully there.

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But What If I Want A Native American Tattoo Anyway?

When I first put this page up in 2003, most of the tattoo-related email I received was from mixed-blood people wishing to get traditional tribal tattoos to honor their native ancestors and feel closer to their native heritage. It is these people that my previous advice is intended for (and judging from their responses, it has been appreciated.) However, since that time tribal tattoo art has apparently really hit the mainstream, and now I get a lot of frustrated email from other people--young people looking for tattoos who are not that interested in reconnecting with their specific Indian roots, or indeed do not have any at all. "Look," they say, "I just want to get a cool looking tribal tattoo that shows my respect for Native Americans in general. I don't really care which tribe it's from. I don't need warnings--don't you have any suggestions?"

Well, you're going to have a hard time getting an authentically traditional Native American tribal tattoo if you really don't belong to a Native American community at all, but here are some tattoo ideas which may be interesting to you if you are in this situation:

1) You could get a tribal tattoo design created by a contemporary Native American artist. I know of one Cherokee artist, Ken Masters, who has free tribal tattoo designs created by him available on his website. You could also browse through our gallery of Native American artists, particularly the native paintings, because some of the other artists may design Indian tattoo art on commission.

2) Cherokee, Cree, and Blackfoot all have unique writing systems, and you could use lettering from one of those scripts as an American Indian tattoo design. These are syllabaries, not alphabets, which means that each Indian character represents one syllable. You could use the first syllable in your name or your girlfriend's name or something like that. Here are pictures of all the characters in Cherokee, Blackfoot, and Cree. You can also download a free Windows font of Cherokee letters here.

3) You could use a word from a Native American language as a tattoo design. This isn't traditional in any tribe that I know of, but in recent times some young Indian guys have started using word tattoos like this, especially with their names, family or clan names, a kinship term, or an animal they feel a connection with. Anything that gets the young people more interested in our languages is a good new tradition as far as I'm concerned. You can use a dictionary to find the word for your favorite animal or the kinship term for a family member you'd like to honor. Here's our Amerindian directory, where we have links to online dictionaries and other resources in various Indian languages. If you'd like a word like this but don't want to track one down yourself, our Native American language organization is currently doing a fundraiser to provide Native American names for people's dogs, and we could also provide translations of an animal or kinship word in several different native languages. Here's a form you can fill out if you're interested in that.

4) You could adapt a Native American symbol or design from traditional artwork into a tribal tattoo picture. There are plenty of good books with pictures of Native American designs and patterns, including Indian Designs, American Indian Design and Decoration, Indian Art of the Northwest Coast, Art of the Northwest Coast Indians, Images in Stone: Southwest Rock Art, Tribal Design Motifs of Ancient Mexico, and Native Designs from Pre-Columbian Mexico. You can probably find a book of Native American art designs in your local library.

5) You could choose a tattoo design based on an North American animal that has significance to Native American culture, such as wolf, bear, eagle, raven, or so on. If you are a tribal member yourself you can use the animal associated with your family's clan, but if you are not or don't know your clan you can choose an animal based on its traditional symbolism. Here is a site of Native American animal symbols which discusses the meaning and mythology of various animals and can help if you're considering an animal tattoo.

6) You could use an image of the tribal seal or flag of a Native American nation as a tattoo design. If you're really sure which tribe grandma belonged to, this might be the option for you. Here is a really nice site with pictures of almost all the tribal flags in the United States and some of the Canadian ones:Native American Flags.

Hope one of those might be the idea you are looking for.

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Further reading:

Here are some authentic resources that might be helpful to you if you are interested in traditional tribal tattoos.
(Our organization earns a commission from any book bought through these links)

Drawing with Great Needles: Ancient Tattoo Traditions of North America is an anthropology book about native tattoo traditions in Woodland and Plains Indian tribes, complete with many Native American tattoo pictures from the 1800's.

This book, The World of Tattoo, has pictures and detailed information about tribal tattoo art and meanings around the world, including a chapter on Native American Indian tattoos.

This book, Tattoo History: A Source Book is another good book on tattoo traditions of the world, including tribal body art from North and South America.

Native North American Art is a good book on Native American artwork in general which contains sections; on tribal tattoos; though those sections are small, the rest of the book may be interesting to you too.

The Encyclopedia of American Indian Costume discusses hairstyles, clothing and ornamentation among various native peoples during various historical periods, including a sentence or two on native tattoo art in each tribe.

The book How to Make Cherokee Clothing has a lot of accurate information about Cherokee tribal tattoos and body art in it, as well as clothing styles.

The Encyclopedia of North American Indians has an online article on Native American Tattooing Methods.

Cherokee Tattoos includes history and pictures of Indian tribal tattoo art as well as contemporary Cherokee tattoo designs.

Plains Cree Clothing includes descriptions and drawings of tribal tattoos (scroll down the page to see them) among the Cree Indians.

Native Tattoo Anthropology features tribal tattoo pictures from indigenous cultures around the world, including Alaska Native and South American Indian cultures.

If you are interested in native Indian tattoos from a cultural perspective, you might like to browse through old pictures of American Indian people, such as the Curtis Collection, the National Archives Collection of American Indian pictures, and Images of Canada's Aboriginal Peoples. Many of the individuals in these public-domain photos wear native tattoos or body art, so you can get an idea of what American Indian tattoos looked like. (Obviously, I recommend against trying to copy a tattoo from a century-old sepia photograph onto your own arm, both for cultural reasons and practical.)

If you have a particular tribe in mind you can also try looking in our list of American Indian tribes--we have collected pages of historical photographs for several tribes, as well as links about tribal art, and these may also help you.

Finally, if you are more interested in tribal designs than in American Indian tattooing in particular, there are several good books illustrating the traditional artistry, symbols and designs of native people. Among them are Indian Art of the Northwest Coast and Art Design of the Pacific Northwest Indians;Images in Stone: Southwest Rock Art;Tribal Design Motifs of Ancient Mexico and Native Design from Pre-Columbian Mexico; and Indian Symbols and Designs and Native American Design.

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Have you found Cheyenne Indian Tribal Tattoos information?

We hope you find the information you are interested in. On our site you can find many other information about tattoos. In addition, we have a catalog of tattoo artists, as well as a description of tattoo styles. Explore the various pages of our site and you will learn a lot of interesting things about the tattoo design.


Indian tattoo cheyenne

Native American tattoos are a great way for the natives to enjoy their culture as they recognize their heritage. The earliest settlers in the US are well known for their symbolic tattoos that they still identify with till today. The Native Americans were deeply spiritual and the ancient tribal tattooing was often done as a part of religious practice. The common Native American tattoo designs included animals, birds and reptiles that were often tattooed with the clan name of the wearer incorporated.

In Native American culture, the dreamcatcher is a well known symbol and a tattoo design that’s popular and has caught the attention of people from all walks of life. It makes a colorful, one of a kind motif that incorporates spider webs, beads and feathers into an intricate and meaningful design pattern. The best part is that a dreamcatcher tattoo has no particular pattern that it follows so it can be created in a multitude of different ways. However, the dreamcatcher is far from being the only Native American tattoo design that has become popular throughout the years in all different cultures.

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The symbols of Native American tattoo design may differ from one tribe to another, where different tribes were identified by different Native American tattoos. In some instances after winning a war, the winners would be tattooed as a symbol signifying victory.

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One of the common Native American tattoo designs is the dream catcher which was originally used on the children of the tribes. Dream catcher is believed to offer protection from bad spirits that appear in bad dreams and nightmares.

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Native American tattoos have become common among other cultures as well with many tattoo lovers opting to identify themselves with Native American tattoos like the dream catchers, Native American faces, eagles and other symbolic Native American items.

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Native American tattoo designs involved use of power animals which were often referred as tribe tottems.  The power animals are believed by the Native Americans to be greater than the actual animals as they embody the essence and the spirit of the animal. Having such a tattoo means that you identify with the character and meaning of the animal.


Native American tattoo symbols vary in meaning from one tribe to another and across the culture groups in North America. In most cases the symbols portray geometric manifestation of celestial bodies. Birds are also often used in the Native A merican tattoos as they symbolize a sense of freedom given the ability to sour up higher.native american tattoo designs (32)

Most of the Native America tattoo designs are beautiful and very large is shape making them suit well on the wide parts of the body like the back, arms, chest and the legs. The Native American tattoo below is large enough covering the entire arm and it looks quite eye-catching.

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Native American tattoos also have spiritual or mystical meanings to those who wear them. The wearer’s believed that having a Native American tattoo would endow them with supernatural power or some divine strength.

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Feathers play an intricate role in Native American culture, being a culture that truly lived off the earth and the grounds, nature and the balance there of was an everyday part of life for Indian tribes. Animals were not only used for food but for survival and warmth. Hunting and gathering was a part of daily living for all tribe members, making anything to do with animals and nature an essential part of living for the culture. Today, we honor the culture with a wide range of Native American tattoos that depict the various elements that signify values, culture and pride in the earthly elements around us.

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The Native Americans were deeply spiritual and would often communicate thoughts dreams and ideas through symbols and signs like the symbol of man used in the Native American tattoo below. The symbol of man gave an indepth illustration of the life of man.

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The Native American tattoo design below shows a creative combination of man and an eagle. The eagle is shown like its on flight making the tattoo depict a rich meaning of the eagles attributes and how its incorporated in the life of man.

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Native American tattoos offer a wide variety of choice in color, design and symbol patterns. Many people that opt for these types of tattoos may also incorporate the earthly elements into their design as well such as water, wind, and fire. You may often see tattoos of Indian heads or tribe apparel that can symbolize of wealth of things such as pride, strength, loyalty and family.

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Most Native American Tattoo designs involve use of the feathers which were mostly used by the Native Americans in religious ceremonies and rituals. The feathers often used are for the red-tailed hawk and the eagle since they are considered as sacred birds.

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The Native American culture and the Polynesian culture were similar in most of the cases regarding the symbolism and the meaning they gave to the tattoos.  Some Native American tattoos could depict a young warrior getting his first kills which explain the crowning with feathers and other elements as in the Native American tattoo below.

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Even if you do not have Native American blood coursing through you, you can still respect the feelings and thought behind this tattoo design. Plus you know you have many options to pick from. There are wide array of designs some even including animals like the bison etc.


You can see that the design of the simple dreamcatcher has a couple of feathers and is about 2 inches wide and six inches long. It has been rendered using traditional ink. Complete with colorful beads the simple yet detailed design is quite pleasing.

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The other one that you see here has a circular loop and you can see that it follows the heart shaped design. With feathers and beads hanging from it is really beautiful in its elegant lines and simplicity.

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• For a feeling security and well being. It is believed that having a dreamcatcher
tattoo can protect you from evil and keep you feeling secure. This is strongly
believed for protection from nightmares
• It is also believed to represent the sheer freedom that nature can afford and the integration of man with things from the nature like the trees and the animals

•It can also be chosen to show respect and love for an ancient tradition and set of beliefs that could turn their inner fears into something so beautiful and creative

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Factors that determine the selection of a dreamcatcher tattoo

• Make sure that you know the meaning of the tattoo design that you picking
instead of just the way it looks
• Make sure to do your homework both in terms of design and symbolism
• Pick the one that represents what you feel and what you want it to represent. You can get creative and design your own
• Pick the location of the tattoo with care both for cultural considerations and also for the way it will affect your personal and professional life

native american tattoo designs

Native American tattoos were often done by a Shaman or a designated person within the tribe who was known to be skilled in the art.  The process of getting the tattoo done was not for the faint hearted as it involved use of a sharpened rock or bone to carve the tattoo.

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Native Americans viewed everything as an embodiment of spirit and the meaning was communicated to all the common symbols used in the Native American tattoos.

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The Native American tattoo design below is a combination of all sorts of elements that make the tattoo quite versatile and stunning. The place its worn is also ideal as its large enough making it accommodate every bit of the Native American tattoo perfectly.

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According to the Native American culture, the Native American tattoo is a symbol of the image of the spirit meaning where the tattoo is used is perceived as an embodiment of the spirit of the tattoo whether it’s an animal, a bird or a human being.

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Native American tattoo designs come with a wide variety of designs to choose from. The tattoos are quite large unlike other tattoo designs and the colour mixture is great for those who love a blend of many colours.

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The tattoos with Indian heads commonly feature in the Native American tattoo culture where the head is associated with the family and is a symbol of strength and loyalty.

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Native American tattoos are known for the fascinating look and complexity. The tattoos can be worn by both men and women, even those who are not Native Americans.

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The Native American tattoo below looks spectacular with the colours blended so well. The tattoo is large enough making it suitable for the upper back where it’s worn.

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It’s important to research on the meaning of a tattoo before deciding to wear it. Most Native American tattoos have very symbolic meanings and it would be necessary for the wearer to find out on the meaning that best suits one need before working on the tattoo.

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It’s also good to decide on the size of the tattoo you want and the place you would wear it on. Deciding in advance gives you enough time to ponder on your decision and get to wheigh on your decision if its actually what you want.

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Native Americans were well known as hunters and gatherers a fact that make them value animals greatly. The animals were not only a source of food but also played an integral role in their culture.

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Fire, water and wind are elements that are also popularly incorporated in the Native American tattoos. The incorporation of the elements in the tattoo with a blend of different colours creates an eye catching Native American tattoo design that stands out when worn like in the tattoo below.

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This huge Native American tattoo incorporates almost all the common features used in the Native American tattoo design. The symbol of the tattoo below can be quite complex given the many features involved in its design.

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Native American tattoos are gaining popularity world over and not only a preserve for Native Americans. The tattoo below of a Native American girl and an animal looks stunning and reinforces the deep connection the Native Americans have with animals.

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This Native American girl tattoo looks immensely beautiful. The colured feathers enhance the facial appearance of the girl  on the tattoo creating a rich picture of a Native American girl.

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The use of skull with a head dress is a common feature in the Native American tattoo design. Incorporating skulls in tattoos is common with tattoo designers and the below Native American tattoo design just looks stunning with a combination of the feathers.

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Native Americans loved to express ideas and thoughts through symbols like the tattoos and they also had a common belief that everything like the animals, plants, trees had a spirit and by having a tattoo of any of the features symbolized one’s connection to the spirit.


One common feature that dominated the Native American Tattoo design is the thunderbird, which symbolized dominion, provision, protection and having an indomitable spirit.

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Indian Tattoos - Best Indian Tattoo Designs

It is ironic that the very state in the United States with the longest and most varied history of body decoration (including tattooing) is the last of the states to legalize the art of tattooing. On May 3, 2006 Oklahoma Legalized Tattooing. Oklahoma, the last state with a prohibition on tattooing, had finally legalized it.

The state gets its name from two Choctaw Indian words, okla, meaning people, and homa, meaning red. The name means Land of the Red People. Oklahoma is a fitting name for the state because it became home for many displaced tribes from the east. The first white men to enter this area were members of the Spanish expedition led by Francisco Vázquez de Coronado in 1541. They were looking for the golden city of Quivira but found tribes of Indians hunting buffalo across the plains and raising corn in settlements on the river banks. The Caddo, Witchita, Comanche, Osage, Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes all lived in the area when the Spanish arrived. From 1825 to 1842 a sad procession of homeless Indians moved west into Oklahoma. These Indians were known as The Five Civilized Tribes: the Cherokee, Creek, Chickasaw, Choctaw and Seminole. They had been forced by the United States Government to give up their eastern land to the white settlers. Most of these tribes had a history of tattooing or body painting.

Following is some information on the body decorations of these tribes.

Caddo - Both sexes tattooed their faces and bodies. Some men had figures of birds and animals tattooed on their bodies, while others had zigzag lines as ornaments. Tattooing was highly important to the Cherokee. At an early age a boy was tattooed with designs of flowers, animals, stars and suns.

Arapaho - Face and body painting was practiced, especially in ceremonies like the Sun Dance.

Osage - This tribe used both body painting and tattooing. Women were tattooed on their foreheads with a black circle representing the sun while men had dots tattooed on their faces.

40 years or so after the United Statea had driven many eastern Indians into the land now known as Oklahoma and declared it "Indian Territory," the United States government was forced to buy some of the land back and open it to white settlers. On April 22, 1889, 50,000 settlers waited for the signal to that would start the largest land boom in US history. Within days, Oklahoma City and Guthrie had populations of over 10,000 each.

Modern tattoo history since the 1900s in Oklahoma is spotty. Oklahoma City had Leon and Bob at 419 West Grand. In the city of Lawton, a tattooist working under the name Stubby was located at 1415 South Second Street. Fred Musselman and Sebastiano Valenti also worked in Lawton, but their addresses are unknown. In the book Life as a Sideshow Tattoo Artist, Stoney Knows How by Alan Governor, Stoney St. Clair talks about an Oklahoma Indian tattooist named Chief Many Ponies. Unfortunately the Archive does not have any information about him.

Originally published by the Tattoo Archive © 2006
Updated 2017


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