Posted by on May 17, 2018 in Featured

Should Indian Guys Wear Long Hair? by Chase Iron Eyes

Should Indian Guys Wear Long Hair? by Chase Iron Eyes

I recently read a story via the new moccasin telegraph (social media) that expounded upon the reasons why a young boy cut his long hair, this boy was not Indigenous. However, you don’t have to be indigenous to have a connection to your long hair. The story told of a time when the young boy broke down and cried to his mom about other kids taunting him at school, saying he looked like a girl, etc. Every native parent reading this, who chooses to support their kids’ honoring of long hair, knows the feeling when their child is being singled out for something that he should be proud of.

I have gone through this with my own son. He would often ask me at 4-5 years old if only girls had long hair. He would get taunted at school about his long hair, for his 1st year he was the only boy with long hair at the school, and at one point early on he asked to cut it, to which we replied that it was up to him but we explained that our ancestors wore long hair to honor the creator and themselves and that he was a warrior just like them, albeit in a pint size frame equal in weight to most Northern Pikes. By the way, to provide total disclosure, yes I told him that only we are like Avatars -the blue versions of Dances with Wolves who can connect to various organic entities via their long hair. I only told him this because he was so young and that movie made an impression on him, even though I was the one who took him to it in the theatres (twice) and replayed it several times at home “for him.”

After the first incident of student(s) taunting our son because of his long hair, or “medicine” as we call it in Indian Country, we paid his school a visit to simply speak with the kids, his whole class. I will never forget how receptive, friendly and open these little 4-5 year olds were. It seemed I was the one who went into the school with a preconceived notion of narrow minded kids only capable of making fun of my son.  We explained the basics to them that some boys have long hair, some girls have short hair, everybody is different and that it was a great thing for our world to have differences. We explained that our son was Lakota and that Indian boys wore long hair. I’m happy to report that the unnecessary occurrences died down and people accepted him as is. He still rocks his long locks -perseverance.

The idea that an indigenous kid with long hair would face taunting and other singling out in the Midwestern United States is not outlandish. Indigenous people are maybe 10-15% of the population around these parts and most schools outside Indigenous homelands are predominantly white. However, there is another side to this occurrence.

The same thing happening to our little long lock warriors also happened to me when I was a 1st grader, on my own reservation no less. Other kids, short-haired Indian kids, made fun of my hair and said I looked like a girl, etc. I took the easy way out, I cut it. My tresses would stay in various wanna-be Elvis/HipHop styles until I graduated High School and decided it was time to represent myself, at which time I grew braids. My long hair lasted until I was almost finished with college when I again attempted to blend and cut it, once again.

They say your hair is your history.  I can hear my mother’s words when I returned one spring break “Oh no, sonny; your power”, she said without scorn but with a palpable quiver in her voice like she had just lost a loved one.  Her words hit me straight in the soul because I had never heard her describe long hair in that manner. Yet, I had previously talked to a man who was a “young elder” at that time in my homelands and who I had the opportunity to speak with about the significance of long hair. Birgil Kills Straight had told me that it was “important for us to respect our hair, our hair is its own entity, it grows on its own, so as Oceti Sakowin (Indigenous People) we respect it and let it grow, caring for it.” So, I had a foundation, a context, upon and within which I heard my mother’s words that night as I partied hard in my new short hair.

Short hair is the mark of the modern world; colonization really, but that’s a word that tends to make people question themselves. Let us move on.  I ain’’t got nothing against a native brother rockin’ a comb-over sportin’ a sweater vest or cardigan, on that Carlton tip. Hell, throw in a bow tie for added measure. I know short hair really doesn’t make you “less Indian inside.” Never the less, I must speak from the perspective of a survivor; a holdout. There are enough holdouts, enough hippies, enough proud brothers who will go through the extra work it takes to maintain our long hair such that this seemingly simple aesthetic tradition is kept alive, even if just to get us some romanticized role in Hollywood or on the cover of a romance novel, bare chested -RezDreams.

Some say our hair is connected to our spirit and our nervous system helping us with that 6th “Indian sense” used to detect any unseen danger behind us or in our vicinity; helping us detect, in a barren drought ridden desert, 4 day old horse droppings, grab a pinch, give it a genuine sniff, morph into a real stoic Indian looking off into the distance, and tell you what direction the rider(s) went and what kind of pack he was carrying. You know what I mean; there is definitely a perception that Indians have a heightened sense for intuiting their surroundings. Who knows if it’s not a true stereotype? In either case, it is enough for me to respect my hair as its own entity and to know that I am honoring my ancestors by choosing to wear it long. Hopefully, enough of our warriors can arrive at that conclusion as well.

Our son is still referred to as a girl in passing in public or at wrestling meets, but he seems to have risen above any ridicule associated with wearing long hair as he respectfully and abruptly retorts “I’M A BOYYYY!” He will one day, if he so chooses to, take his place among all the other indigenous ambassadors that honor the spirit of their hair and their ancestors by wearing their hair long. You can include me in that cohort so long as hair chooses to bless my head.