The Métis tattooist channels his passion into beautiful body art
Standing in the doorway of his new tattoo shop near the corner of Jarvis and Queen, Toby Sicks greets you with open arms. Small talk turns into a conversation, then you’re sitting comfortably on his chair while he performs a ceremony.
“Where else can you smudge before you get a tattoo?” he said.
Sicks is the owner of Inkdigenous Tattoo Studio and a current student in the community worker program at George Brown College.
A Métis from Hearst, Ontario, Sicks said growing up “we weren’t rich in materialism, but we were rich in family, we were rich in support.”
Sicks said he found Hearst an oppressive town and he was angry from what he felt was a lack of opportunity there.
He developed problems with substance abuse and Sicks found himself homeless in 2013, when he moved to Toronto from northern Ontario for rehabilitation.
For a couple of years Sicks said he was “in and out of shelters and treatment centres” in Toronto.
He is now working full-time as a tattoo artist.
Sicks credits coming to George Brown with some of his personal breakthroughs.
“It was the community work course that sobered me up,” he said. “That got me to realize my place in world.”
The community worker student said that at the college he was reading a lot about Métis people, marginalization and “how oppressive it is out there.”
Inkdigenous opened in July in the Moss Park neighbourhood with a mission to promote local Indigenous artists.
Sicks hopes to hire Indigenous artists who have the drive to put their work out there, using their own ideas.
“My view is not only to share culture and tradition but also to create economics for our indigenous artists,” he said.
For J.P. Gladu, the president and CEO of the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business, Indigenous entrepreneurship goes back to the fur trade in Canada.
“We were the first economic engine,” said Gladu, who is Anishinaabe.
Gladu also sees business as a means to empower Indigenous people in Canada.
“When you think about our Indigenous communities, we need to get to a place where we’re not managing poverty, we’re managing wealth.” said Gladu. “And the only way we manage wealth is to create wealth through entrepreneurship and business.”
Currently, the gallery also has paintings and beadwork by Indigenous artists and Sick’s has plans to expand.
As a tattooist, Sicks’ creative process involves working closely with other Indigenous artists, such as Nyle Johnston, to develop cultural artwork for display, which can also be inked on clients.
Sicks said that people should look for an organization or education program that affirms their identity, like he found at George Brown.
“I have no regrets,” said Sicks. “I am glad that everything did happen to me. I thank the Creator everyday, because I wouldn’t know what I know today.”
CLARIFICATION: This article was updated on Feb. 25, 2019 with additional context from the original interview about Sicks’ time before being a student at George Brown College.