In Thunderchild First Nation, in what is known today as the province of Saskatchewan, Canada, many young boys get bullied for following their native culture by letting their hair grow long, slowly, and then formed into braids. After a youth is continuously teased and harassed in school for a while, he succumbs to the pressure and slices off his braid of hair. Then guilt comes into play, along with the feeling that he has gone against his own cultural beliefs and that the others have won.
The long braid of a First Nation’s male symbolises many things: strength, wisdom, identity and culture. Most important, it honours ancestors. Recently Michael Linklater, a Thunderchild First Nation father, saw that his two sons were being bullied in school for their hair. After he heard that many other young boys were also being bullied and teased, Linklater organized a campaign called Boys with Braids. Having once been disrespected in school for his braid himself when he was young, Linklater now is not afraid to stand up for his cultural beliefs and give strength to the young who are in need of it.
In a short time the campaign of Boys with Braids has been taken to two cities across Canada, but many cities in Canada will be seeing them in the future.
It has been said that many First Nations people believe that while they are getting their hair braided right before a powwow or a ceremony it brings in positive energy and strength passed down to them from their elders and ancestors. A great number of First Nations citizens believe that the male hair braid is the connection to the Creator and to our beautiful Mother Earth.
During residential schooling era priests banned the historical tradition of growing the hair of boys. Once the boys were taken from their homes their hair was cut off. Then they were placed into the residential school system. The priests of residential schools placed in Canada hurt the youth in many ways.
These days I don’t often spot First Nations men with their long traditional braids, but it might just be because I live in the city. In Canadian cities there are many First Nations men who have short hair who work in business, trades, and government. The long braid, it seems, is a cultural tradition that has to be replanted and reproduced.
We have to stop listening to what others have to say when they are just speaking to bully and hurt us for our own cultural practices and beliefs. Each day a young boy gets bullied or teased over his braid one of us needs to stand by our younger brother and support him and not leave until the bullying and teasing has stopped. First Nations are meant to hold each other’s hands; our nations will never give up on each other because together we are as strong as Mother Earth.
We all stand together to honour our Ancestors, Mother Earth and the Creator and to keep our people safe. This is how we protect our traditional beliefs. When our young boys are bullied and teased about their braids they need the protection of our spiritual family. We can give them the power and strength that they need at that moment. With the help and power of the Creator, Mother Earth, and our Ancestors our youth will be strengthened and their traditional braids will grow as long as possible.
Born and raised in Manitoba, Canada and now residing in Calgary, Alberta. McIntosh recently found her ancestry. Her goal is to pursue a future with writing and hopes to open some closed eyes and minds.