The Politics of Hair

I have heard about teachers cutting off and threatening to cut off Aboriginal children’s hair. 

Up here in Canada it was in Thunder Bay. I went through the roof when I read about it on Facebook. The following article from Windspeaker Magazine explains why it is important.  

“When you’ve chopped off someone’s hair you have taken away their pride,” said traditional healing coordinator Teresa Magiskan. She works with the Anishnawbe Mushkiki Health Centre in Thunder Bay.
“The worst thing to do to someone, historically, is to take their hair,” she explained. Magiskan was reminded of past centuries where men were shamed by their enemies in battles by having their hair taken from them.
Magiskan, who has been involved with the cultural teachings program at the centre for the past five years, said even the length of hair and the way it is styled can be incredibly symbolic in Aboriginal culture. She said some traditionalists believe that the cutting of hair represents a time of mourning the loss of a loved one.
The boy’s mother ­who asked not to be named- was quoted in the Globe and Mail comparing the importance of hair to Aboriginal culture as the Kippot or yarmulke is to Jewish tradition. Hebrew men wear the caps on their heads as a sign of respect to their religion.
“You have to respect that,” she said. “It’s the same thing.”
The reality is, however, most people are not aware of the symbolic nature hair has in Aboriginal culture. That was apparent in the reaction to the event after the hair cutting incident was reported to the public. A diverse range of opinions were voiced when it was reported that the teaching assistant would not face charges, but would be suspended from her job for choosing to cut another parent’s child’s hair without permission.”




And in the U.S. the saga also continues as you can read in my fellow bloggers page  The Thing About Skins by Gyasi Ross 

” See, this beautiful little Native boy, Adriel Arocha, and his parents were some of the most recent people to discover the political nature of Indian hair–the 150 year old curse for Native people. His parents discovered the curse that broke hundreds of thousands of Indian hearts and crushed many Native parents. They were hit with the same curse that caused Native children to be strangers in their homelands, as well as in the schools into which they were forced to attend. This curse vitiated Native parental authority and robbed so many Indian parents of the ability to even learn how to be proper parents. In fact, Native parenting suffers to this day because of this of the kids that were stolen away from them, that said “You are not allowed to raise your kids how you want them to be raised because your ways are inferior.” 

It was the very first “big government,” but it was big government that intruded into the very most personal and intimate activity–how we raise our kids.” 


I understand this and I know it first hand. 

I remember grade three as the year of Ms.Z*** and she was a nasty throw back to the bad old days. I was so proud cause my Mom taught me how to braid my hair and I could do it myself. I practiced everywhere, including in the old bats class.
So one day she took her scissors out of her desk, came to my desk grabbed a braid and said if I ever braided it in her class again she would cut them off. I was soooooo scared.
For a week I played sick at home. My Mom being the sly fox she is asked if it was another kid cause sooner or later I’d have to learn to fight. I broke down crying and told her what she had said to me.


Me and my Mom at age 2 

My Mom waited till my Dad got home from his morning coffee around 10:30 am. She handed my new-born baby brother to him and took me by the hand and we marched to school together.
The whole time I was kinda chilled up because my Mom never ever got this mad. She was furious! As we walked in the principal ducked into his office and sent out the Vice Principal to deal with it.
The vice principal was like 6 foot 4 and even he was scared. My Mom demanded she see Ms. Z*** Since grade one my Mom had been an active member of the PTA and various school groups.
If she was ticked then something was wrong. He called for the Aboriginal Student Liason Worker and away they went down the hallway.

I kinda held back, I could feel the tension. My teacher came out of class and my Mom asked her.
“Did you just tell my daughter you were going to cut off her braids?”
Stupid head replied, “Yes, and I will if she braids them in my class again.”
My Moms arm wound up just as the VP stepped in to block the punch. WAMMM!!!
He hit the floor, she might be 5 foot nothing but that’s raw Momma Bear strength.
The Aboriginal Student Liaison who came around the corner just in time to hear the last words of the teacher put raised his fist in the air and yelled, “Indian Power Bea!”
We walked home and nothing was ever said until after I had my first daughter Aurora.


I recalled the event and laughed until she told me why she had freaked so much.
The indian agent had come right after Mooshum died and said to Cookum that he had to take the girls. She said no and then he said she would be sent to jail. She had no choice.
My Mom remembered the car then the train ride. She was lined up with the other children and separated from her sisters.


Aurora Jade at Pow Wow  

They were all stripped naked and all their medicine bags and belongings were thrown in an oil drum and set aflame.
My Mom had this little sock doll that Cookum made for her and when the nun threw it in the fire my Mom reached in to try to save him. Her arms still have scars on them today.
The last thing she remembers before the end of the day was the nuns dragging all the girls to a room where they cut off their hair, then they coated their heads in DDT to kill the “bugs” that were always on “little savages”.
It burned her raw scalp and as she went to bed in her cot she felt naked and ashamed. She stayed in that frame of mind and at those horrible places for another 12 years.
After she told me I hugged her and tried not to cry.
I knew I would grow my baby’s hair long and if ever the time came I would knock some dumb ass down in defence of her.
She told me a little more and it was then I realized how much power our hair has.

Like Sampson in that old book they shove down our throats. It is a source of power.

For me it reminds me of my elders, the ones that came before. The ways they fought to protect and the teachings I must keep and learn for the ones yet to come. 

NEVER AGAIN should our children be made to suffer for the ignorance of others.
NEVER AGAIN should our children be made to feel weak or lesser than others.

Not on my watch.
Lilyanna Lune and her sister Aurora
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