Tattoo medicine: Indigenous-owned shop celebrates two years in ‘Victoria’

Mason Larose talks about opening Mahihkan Tattoo and why the experience of getting tattooed is just as important as the end result
Mason Larose working on a pattern for a Mahihkan Tattoo shop sign. Photo: Mahihkan Tattoo Instagram

In 2021, Mason Larose opened his own tattoo shop in “Victoria B.C.” — taking a risk by starting a new business at a time many others were shutting down because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Located on unceded lək̓ʷəŋən territories, Larose opened Mahihkan Tattoo, which stands out among other shops in “Victoria” as an Indigenous-owned and operated tattoo studio.

The shop celebrated its two-year anniversary this March — a milestone Larose is proud of after putting so much of himself into the business.

Larose says that opening the shop during the pandemic was a stressful experience, particularly because institutional support was difficult to come by.

“I had to travel back home in a borrowed car during a winter storm just so I could have some stuff to put on the walls, says Larose, a Métis man of néhiyaw descent.

He laughs about it now: “It felt like a weird dream.”

Larose was able to get his shop finished on time thanks to the support of friends who helped with the renovations.

A bear skin hangs on the wall in Mahihkan Tattoo amongst locally inspired artwork. Photo by Mason Larose

Honouring a name

Nestled behind a small patio on the corner of Quadra Street and North Park, Mahihkan Tattoo is now bustling with clients. 

Inside is a calm, clean, and cosy space with plentiful plants and artwork on the walls,  the Mahihkan sign proudly displayed on the window. The logo design is a split wolf face that speaks to the duality of Larose’s mixed heritage, something that others of mixed heritage can understand comes with difficulties. 

Mahihkan (ᒪᐦᐃᐦᑲᐣ) means wolf in Cree, and has personal significance to Larose, but he wrestled with the name for some time before deciding.

“I just want to honour that side of me that I’ve felt I’ve had to repress most of my life,” he said. “I just want to shout it out loud and not be so quiet about it anymore.”

In the end he says he’s glad that he chose a name and design for the shop that is meaningful to him and provides representation for others.

Tattoo medicine

Mahihkan Tattoo has had a big turnover with people from all over “Canada” coming in to visit the resident artists and rotating guest tattooers. 

Larose says that when it comes to tattooing, the energy of getting a tattoo is just as important as the end result. He says the experience of receiving a tattoo is like medicine. 

“In my experience, it’s like therapy. That’s why I also believe the experience of the tattoo itself is almost as important as the work you’re getting,” he said. 

“The environment you’re getting it in, that’s all going to be stuck to that memory that you’re trying to make.”

Mason Larose tattooing a piece in his shop, Mahihkan Tattoo. Photo: Mahihkan Tattoo Instagram

Larose, who is also involved in local activism, has gifted several tattoos to folks involved in land defence projects around “British Columbia.” Mahihkan Tattoo also supports land defenders by raising money through Raven Trust, a legal defence fund for Indigenous peoples in “Canada”.

Looking to the future, Larose would love to expand Mahihkan and help foster a space for more Indigenous and other underrepresented artists to learn and grow as creatives in their own right.

“This is something that I’ve wanted to do for a really long time, but life just always happened,” he said. “I just kind of needed a push.”

Mahihkan Tattoo’s patio and facade facing Quadra Street near downtown Victoria. Photo: Photo: Mahihkan Tattoo Instagram

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