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Tattoo artist joins pipeline protest

Ever since Ippiksaut Friesen started learning how to do traditional Inuit tattoos a year ago, she has travelled around Canada to share her practice with people.

When the Rankin Inlet artist was invited to take part in a tattoo workshop in British Columbia by the Indigenous activist Kanahus Manuel in July she knew it was an opportunity she couldn't pass up.

Ippiksaut Friesen shows off a flag she got after taking part in a blockade to stop the Kinder Morgan pipeline in British Columbia. Cody Punter/NNSL photo

Little did she know she would find herself in the midst of a headline-making protest against the Kinder Morgan pipeline that would lead to Manuel's arrest.

Friesen first met Manuel during a tattoo gathering in Ontario last year. During her most recent workshop in North Thompson Provincial Park, B.C. things started off smoothly. Over the course of three days Friesen gave tattoos to a handful of women, including one who had been waiting 20 years to get hers.

“There's a lot of pride and joy when people receive their traditional markings,” said Friesen. “I feel it's really healing for people.”

Following the workshop Friesen planned to travel around and maybe go to Vancouver to visit friends. But Manuel and her group of Tiny House Warriors, who move their trailered homes around to create blockades against the Kinder Morgan pipeline within unceded Secwepemc Territory, decided they were going to set up camp for a protest in the provincial park.

Ippiksaut Friesen gives a traditional Inuit tattoo to Julie Lacourse during a tattoo workshop in North Thompson Provincial Park, B.C. photo courtesy of Ippiksaut Friesen

That's when Friesen decided she would stay and help support the protest against the pipeline, which was recently purchased by the federal government for $4.5 billion. Friesen said it's not just the pipeline itself that the Secwepemc women are worried about, but the man camps that are creeping up along the highway.

“A lot of people have a missing and murdered Indigenous woman story. It's something that has been on my mind a lot recently. Being there with those women was the least I could do in the moment.”

Friesen said the week she ended up with the blockade was tense. At times there were police helicopters flying overhead and people were constantly trying to harass and confront the group who were peacefully camped out in the park.

“Just the amount of racism that was happening there that kind of shocked me,” she said. “It's not right that they're hurting people that are just protecting the land and the water.”

The night before Friesen was supposed to fly back to Nunavut she ended up leaving the camp. The next morning she woke up to a Facebook livestream from Manuel, who was being arrested by RCMP. She rushed back to the campgrounds to offer her support but by the time she got there the police were already dismantling the blockade.

Manuel was eventually released and charged with obstruction of justice. The livestream of the arrest has since been viewed more than 500,000 times on Facebook and has become a rallying call for activists intent on stopping the pipeline.

Since returning home Friesen has been having trouble trying to digest what happened. She said she is staying in touch with the women she met, many of whom currently fear for their safety.

“It was scary,” she said. “I'm just watching the stuff they post and hoping that they're safe.”