Winnipeg's first Boys with Braids event is sharing teachings about the sacredness of hair to help indigenous boys feel proud and to counter bullying.
"It's very sacred to us, and the longer our hair grows, the closer it gets to the earth, and because we're earth-based people, according to our teachings, we feel more spiritually connected," said event host Cecil Sveinson, whose hair reaches his waist.
There's a lot of diversity with indigenous teaching, so there's not one reason why indigenous men and boys wear braids, he said.
Boys with Braids — inspired by Michael Linklater's campaign in Saskatchewan — is meant to foster a sense of pride in the boys who choose to grow their hair long.
Sveinson and his son have been teased about their long hair. When his son was eight, he was tired of being bullied, so he cut his hair.
"The issues that I faced when I was young, my son faced almost 20 years ago, those are the same issues I'm hearing about now with my nephews, and so I just decided, let's have this event." he said. "What really bothers me and what prompted this is when it comes from adults — if it comes from teachers, daycare workers, even serving personnel at a restaurant."
His nephew also cut his long hair because he was "teased mercilessly by his coaches," Sveinson said.
'You wouldn't expect that from an adult, especially somebody who has authority over you.' - Cecil Sveinson, Boys with Braids host
"When you're hearing that from people in positions of power who should be supporting you, it cuts even more," he said. "You wouldn't expect that from an adult, especially somebody who has authority over you."
Sveinson said when he asks some indigenous boys why they they have long hair, they respond "culture" but can't always answer what their family says about long hair.
"That's a byproduct of assimilation and colonization," he said. "If we give these kids these teachings, they'll know, but not only that, we want the parents to come so that we can provide that knowledge to the parents too."
Sveinson's son, who is now 25, chose, on his own, to grow his hair back in his teenage years.
"Extremely proud of him to see him do that," Sveinson said.
Boys with Braids is at Convocation Hall in the University of Winnipeg at 6 p.m. on Thursday. There will be a feast, opening song and prayer, then an elder will share teachings and a mother will talk about what it meant to her to have her son teased.
"So those little guys, they know that they're not in it alone. Not only does the teasing affect them, but it affects their families as well," Sveinson said.