Boys with Braids

On March 23rd 2016, I attended a Boys with Braids event at the University of Regina. This event focused primarily around the cultural practice of aboriginal  boys and males having long, and braided hair. The event came from Jolee Saskamoose, a professor at the university, whose son was being bullied from looking like a girl. This is a common problem in our society, those who do not follow society’s standard are forced into conforming to the standards; either through bullying or through intimidation. This happens no matter what the differences are between someone’s beliefs and the standard. I have been aware that hair in aboriginal cultures plays a significant role; however, it was not until I attended the Boys with Braids event did I realize how much of an impact hair has on the cultures. Long hair has many important teachings that accompany it, such as patience, unity and respect. Theses are teachings that are rarely taught in our society, yet rather than embrace the traditional teachings, people shun them, think of them as laziness, or disgusting.

When I was young my mom always made me cut my hair short because I was horrible at brushing my hair. Once I got old enough to make my own decisions I was adamant that I would grown my hair out so it could fit into a pony tail. To me long hair is a choice,  the only meaning that it has to me is the pressure that calms me while it is in a pony tail. My sister often braids my hair, because it is fashionable. For more than 10 years I have viewed hair as a fashion statement, as something that can be cut, died, permed, straightened, styled, etc. because it is only a fashion statement and will always grow back. It never bothered me when males had long hair, but I grew up in a family where a lot of the males had long hair, simply because they wanted to; and females had short hair, because they wanted to. I have never, not once considered hair as being important to ones culture because of the teachings associated with it.

One of the speakers that was presenting was Dion Tootoosis who focused on the teachings of long hair to help heal from Residential Schools. Tootoosis referred to aboriginals as being 140 years behind their traditions because of the schools. However, bringing back the old traditions will help bring back the lost cultures, which will start having youth become interested in their traditional languages, and cultural practices. Tootoosis placed a lot of importance on teaching youth the practice of braiding; those that teach it can find relaxation as well as peace while practicing it.

What does any of this have to do with bettering my  classroom? That is a great question, do you know why they consider braiding important, while I didn’t at first either, actually it was not until we started to have people from the audience come present about their experiences at school with their son or grandson having long hair. Teachers are a fundamental part of how students treat other students, because we see a lot of the positive and negative aspects of the students’ lives. While we may not say that “we should call the little boy with a braid a girl”, by us not pointing out the problems or educating the students on reasoning’s behind the beautiful long braids allows for students to pick out the “deviations” that the young boys follow. Bullying already happens too much, but teachers cannot hope to fix every single problem if they do not understand the root of the problem. It may be possible that if a teacher did not understand the value of long braided hair, they may recommend the student simply getting a hair cut to avoid being bullied, without even realizing that by suggesting this, they are equally participating in the bullying.

After attending this presentation I have a new respect and understanding for my hair, as well as for the aboriginal males who proudly wear their hair in long, strong, and neat braids. While I may not be able to teach aboriginal youth about why keeping their hair long is important, I can ensure that my students do not bully, as well as making sure that I do not do anything to make them feel like I think anything less of them for having their long hair.