Chief not an Indian

Because of his many tattoos (he had eleven) I asked Trent to talk about the ones that meant the most to him. “This one is for my little brother who has autism—these are the autism awareness puzzle pieces. The tattoo took around ten hours. I got to the shop at around one in the afternoon and didn’t get home until two a.m.”


“My two brothers are twins. They’re nine now which is insane. When they were born, they were so small and tiny. The one wasn’t diagnosed with autism until he was six or seven. It’s something you don’t expect from your little brother, and then it just happens.” He shrugged his shoulders a little.

“My mom’s trying to keep the twins together in the same school as long as she can. She doesn’t want to separate them. But it’s hard because the teachers don’t really understand how to deal with autism. The twins look out for each other though. Mathisen, the oldest, looks out for Jayden who has autism.

“This was my third one. It says, ‘You are my Sunshine,’ with a sunrise coming up through it. It’s not done yet, I haven’t had time to finish it because I haven’t been home. It’s for my grandma, my mom’s mom, who was pretty much our babysitter growing up. When we went over to her house, she would always have something ready for us to eat. My favorite memory with her is when she used to sit us down and sing ‘You are my Sunshine.’ She’s very supportive of me, but she’s had it rough too. Her husband passed away before I was even one year old so I never got to meet him. She battled pneumonia, but she’s always there when I need her to be.”


“That song has impacted me growing up. No matter what I’m feeling, I’ll remember my grandma singing me that song.

“Then I got the big Indian head. It’s for my granddad, my dad’s dad. He always taught me to be a chief, not an Indian, to be a leader, not a follower. So that’s for him. This one took a long time too, but it’s probably my favorite one. It’s just so big and pretty.”


“He’s very strict and stern. When I stayed at their house he would wake me up at seven in the morning to do work. As a kid, you don’t want to do that, because it’s not fun. But as I got older, I saw that he was trying to teach me values and morals for when I became an adult. I respect that now. I try to thank him when I can, I’m very glad to have him in my life. Back then I just didn’t realize how lucky I was to have someone like that to really drive me.

“Then I went to get this one,” he said, pulling down his shirt collar. “My best friend and I got it together. It’s a band we both listen to called the Devil Wears Prada. Everyone thinks of the movie first, but it’s a band. It’s a Christian, hardcore, screamo band.”


“I’ve known him since I was three, it’s been a long friendship. He went to the army after high school, to Texas where he was stationed for four years, and he just got out this past September. He’s the only person that really gets me. And same with him, I understand everything that he does. He came home for Christmas two years ago, and we got this together.

“He’s back home now. He has to do National Guard for a year or two. He plans on going to school, but it’s hard to tell with him. He’s not really a school person, kind of like me.

“This one was for my cousin, he passed away in 2001. He was a baseball player: a catcher. He was on the way to pick up a friend from a party one night. He either fell asleep or tried to miss a deer, but he hit a telephone pole and passed away.  

“Since he was a catcher, he was always at home base. He was safe at home. That’s what his gravestone says too. Also he’s at home now, he’s in heaven.”


“It was tough when he passed away. He was the oldest cousin and the role model when we were growing up as kids. His mom had a really hard time with it because he was her only son. She didn’t really recover from it. She started drinking, she and her husband got a divorce, and she just spiraled downward. She passed away five years ago from some kind of organ failure. Her body couldn’t handle it anymore.

“This is my most recent one. It’s a keyhole looking into the beach ’cause that’s where I’m from, South Carolina and the beach. It reminds me of home. It’s nice to look at. I love it.”


“This whole arm is my family arm, I plan on getting one tattoo for every member of my family on this arm. It’s really difficult being here and away from them. Family is everything so not being able to see them as often as I want to really stinks. But they try to visit me when they can.”

I asked Trent if he had any closing thoughts he wanted to share.

“Tattoos to me are more like a healing process than art. It’s addicting, yes, when you’re sitting there it feels good. A lot of these I got when I was in a bad mood or feeling down. I sit there and it releases pain. It’s a calming and relaxing feeling, getting tattoos. It hurts, but after awhile you can sit back and close your eyes and think, ‘Alright, I can do this.’ But my tattoos have been planned and thought out, I don’t get tattoos just to get tattoos.”


Thanks to Trent Shuler for sharing his story.
Thanks to Andrew Nelson for photographing.


2 thoughts on “Chief not an Indian

  1. As a friend of Trents, thank you for asking him to explain some of his art. Trent is a great friend and a wonderful person. I’m happy to see part of his story in print!
    Thank you!!

    Liked by 1 person

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