Spirits, Arrows & Feathers – Native American Tattoo Guide for 2024

Native American tattoos have influenced the tattoo industry for quite some time. From the indigenous symbols dominating the tattoo flashes in the early years of the traditional American tattoo style, all the way to elaborate realistic pieces today, this aesthetic and symbolics are an important influence with elaborate meanings.

If you are looking for ideas, feel free to jump to the designs below.

We do advise you to before that read more about the history and learn about the symbols you are planning to use.

Let’s jump right to it!

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Tattoos in Native American Culture

Native American tattoos are by no means only a modern trend. Their history is long, and important to the Native American cultures from Alaska all the way to the tip of the South America.

Depending on the tribe, the tattoo art was a different spiritual ritual across Native American society. This sacred ritual was used to protect, guard, heal, convey status and accomplishments, to just name a few reasons.

Additionally, before colonialism spread across North America, traditional tattooing and body modification were used by different nations to express family lineage, clan crest, social rank, relationship to the territory, hunting and fishing rights, and more.

Revival of The Native American Tattooing

People with Native American heritage are still using tattooing to display their individual style and expression through the symbols of their families and tribes.

At one point, this art almost went extinct, but the modern times and the renaissance of the tattoos in the mainstream culture, in general, have paved the path of reintroducing this ancient art form back into the Native American culture.

Both young indigenous Americans and people fascinated with the Native American culture are now showing their appreciation through beautiful tattoos with native symbols.

Every Tattoo Has A Story – Native American Symbols and Meanings

The indigenous ancestors who had tattoos were very inclusive – men, women, adults and children used elaborate tattoos with meaning to express their tribes values.

For example, chin tattoos among Inupiat women represented a number of different milestones, such as marriage, overcoming trauma, having kids, or, a “coming of age.” 

Tattoos were also used on the face and body to give power to the individual wearing them. For example, paint or tattoos were used to create symbolic eagle eyes around the eyes of men, giving them the eyes of the eagle in flight.

When it comes to choosing based on your heritage should be approached with caution, and with lots of research. 

Here’s an overview of most common Native American tattoo designs:

Some of the more unique approaches would be:

  • Native American writing scripts by Cherokee, Cree, and Blackfoot tribes, for example
  • a word from a Native American language
  • design from a traditional artwork piece
  • tribal seals or flags of a Native American nation

Native American Animal Symbols

Totem animals are very important in the Native American culture, so much so that in some tribes each person is connected to 9 different animals that serve as guides through their life, such as snakes.

These animal or spirit guides (another name: power animals) are fluctuating in our lives, coming and going depending on the phase of the life we are currently in.

Below is the list of the most common Native American animal symbols:

Bearcourage, physical strength and leadership
Beaverdetermination and strong-will
Buffalosacred, life, great strength, abundance and gratitude
Coyotecunning trickster
Deergentleness, grace and survival
Dragonflyhappiness, speed and purity
Eagledivine spirit, creation and freedom
Frogcleansing, sensitivity adaptability
and transformation
Foxanticipation, observation and stealth
Horsemobility, stamina, strength and power
Lizardconservation and self-protection
Opossumdiversion, strategy and deception
Raccooncuriosity, adaptability and resourcefulness
Porcupineinnocence, companionship, and trust
Prairie Dog
swiftness and preparedness
Scorpiontransformation, strength and chaos
Serpentchaos, corruption and darkness
Squirrelplanning and the home
Snakehealing and re-birth
Spidercreativity and is the weaver
of the fabric of life
Turtlegood health and long life
Wolfdirection and leadership and embodies both protection and destruction

The Importance of Native American Tattoo Placement

Unlike other popular tattoo motifs, Native American tattoos rely on the placement to fully develop their meaning.

Tattoo placement is different for women and men:

  • Women’s Native American tattoos were used to increase the beauty of the female bodies and tell stories about the individual. That said, they were mostly being placed above the breasts, shoulders, entire forearms up until the knuckles and entire calves.
  • Most of the men’s Native American tattoo designs were done for chest, thighs, and legs below the knees.
    Particularly important placement of identifying tattoos for warriors was in between the shoulder blades on the back. This was considered to be especially ferocious and was often used as a means of intimidation to warn the members of opposing tribes that the warrior was not someone to be messed with.

If we’re looking away from the historical and cultural placements, there are also purely aesthetic choices.

That said, many opt for a Native American leg tattoo, in fact the calf and thigh are common choices.

Additional, the arms, be it a full arm sleeve tattoo, or on a forearm, are a great option.

Native American Tattoo Ideas

To help you with your research for your next tattoo design, we went on a hunt through Instagram to find the best Native American tattoo ideas.

Take a look below to check them out all:

Are you looking for a custom tattoo Native American tattoo design? We got you.

Our expert tattoo artists will provide a quick initial draft to get you going.
Happy inking ❤

Milena Petrovic

Milena Petrovic

Co-founder of Tattoo Stylist

About the author

Milena has decided to start an organization that will create a safe environment for everybody to get their first, second or third tattoo and to encourage young people to transform their ideas into tattoos safely, with talent and vision.

You can find her writing about tattoos on Quora or updating our Pinterest profile with awesome tattoo ideas!

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