Bonded by Blood (and Ink)

By Thomas McIntyre, Cook Inlet Tribal Council

CIRI Shareholders Cody Henrickson, Tayler Higgins and Larry Oskolkoff II. Photo by Thomas McIntyre.

CIRI Shareholders Larry Oskolkoff II, Tayler Higgins and Cody Henrickson can trace their ancestry to Ninilchik, one of seven villages in the CIRI region. However, it wasn’t until they crossed paths at Cook Inlet Tribal Council (CITC) that they discovered their bond. Recently, CITC staff had the chance to hear how the three of them came together—and the creative way they chose to celebrate their family ties. This is their story.

Larry: I didn’t have a strong connection with my father’s side of the family when I was growing up. I knew I had a lot of family out there, but I’ve never been super closely connected to most of them. I’ve joked over the last couple years that I assume we are related if you can pronounce my last name (Oskolkoff) because almost nobody can.

Cody: I was told through my work to sign up for this [the Tribal Youth Leadership Summit] and I was like, “Sure, yeah, sounds great.” I love CITC, and I love getting out of work a little bit [laughs]. I signed up, and then I got an email from Larry Oskolkoff, and I was like, “Why is my uncle who’s passed on sending me emails?”

Tayler: I was at CITC going to my Youth Advisory Council meeting and I met Larry. I saw the Oskolkoff name, and I was like, “Oh, man, we’re cousins. My grandmother was Flora Meehan Oskolkoff.” It was cool to meet some cousins of mine.

Larry: While at the Tribal Youth Leadership Summit, we were meeting in the morning for breakfast, and I overheard Tayler and Cody talking about tattoos.

Tayler: We were talking about traditional tattoos. I’ve been wanting one so bad, and I was like, “Oh, my gosh, this is the conversation for me right now!”

Cody: I was telling Tayler I think I’m going to get some traditional tattoos—kind of trying to get her to share this excitement with me. And she was like, “Oh, I really want to do that with you.” And I was like, “That would be a great experience!” And then Larry popped in and said, “I don’t know what it is, but I’m down!”

It didn’t take long for it to become official: Larry and Tayler piggybacked on Cody’s tattoo appointment with traditional Inuit tattoo artist Holly Mititquq Nordlum and the three started planning their designs. The tattoos took on meanings that go far beyond what meets the eye.

Larry: I never really felt that deep connection to my culture. I almost had imposter syndrome. As a kid, I would go to Ninilchik at least once a year in the summer. And then last year I got to take my kids down there. To go there and do that, then do the tattoo thing with family and embrace the culture that I never really had a connection with, and to wipe away a lot of that imposter syndrome in the process, was big for me.

Cody: I grew up always being told I was Native. I knew I was Native, but kind of not, in a way. When I met Larry and he had talked to me about not always feeling the most centered in his culture, I was like, “Oh, I know 100% what you mean and what you feel. I feel like I fight for it every day.”

Tayler: I relate to Cody and Larry. I’m a light-skinned girl with blonde hair and blue eyes. People used to try to take away my identity, who I was, and really try to count me out. Growing up, I had to always defend my Native culture. We’re living representations of our ancestors and those before us, embracing their strength and resiliency. It was such an honor and privilege to be with loved ones getting these tattoos.

Cody: It is amazing and heartwarming and the whole process was just filled with laughter and joy. You look at those photos and we’re all smiling so big the whole time, sharing memories and learning about our connections with each other. Those memories and experiences also mark our bodies—maybe not in the most visible ways, but it is still something we carry with us in everything we do.