A young First Nations boy from Cold Lake, Alta., cut his long hair Saturday after enduring what his family called years of bullying in school.
Mylon McArthur, 8, told his mother Tiya-Marie Large he wanted to cut his hair, which had been long all his life, after feeling overwhelmed from constant bullying at Cold Lake Elementary School.
"He told me he did not want his hair anymore," said Large. "I cried. His hair is who we are, it's a part of us, it's his language, it's his pride."
Despite not wanting him to cut his hair and "let the bullies win," she spotted the opportunity to raise awareness about cultural racism and bullying.
"My son is a very loving, capable, caring person," said Large. "He was bullied every day, every recess, every out-of-day school program session. He was always sad, he didn't want to go to school. This was affecting his well-being."
Friday, Mylon and his mother made a video and posted it to Facebook to bring awareness to the significance of long hair in Indigenous cultures.
In the video, Mylon holds up white paper cards with words written on them for his bullies: "You do not define me. You did not beat me. I am not weak. It's OK to have long hair."
"We told Mylon he was brave, strong and handsome. That we were so proud of him," said Large.
The video quickly caught on, with more than 51,000 views since being posted. Despite the response, Mylon still chose to cut his hair, said Large.
A spokesperson for Cold Lake Elementary School said they were unaware of the bullying and therefore had no comment.
Large said she has been talking to Mylon's current teacher who has been trying to help, said Large, but action had yet to be taken.
Nicole Garner, a communications officer with the Northern Lights School Division, cited privacy rules when asked about Mylon's specific case.
"We work with students and parents to ensure supports are in place for students who are affected by bullying as well as working with the other students involved to ensure that bullying behaviour does not continue," she wrote in a statement to CBC.
"We take a team approach to dealing with student supports, so in addition to our classroom teachers, our student advocacy counsellors [sic], and other members of our inclusive education team (mental health specialists, behaviour specialists, wellness coaches, etc.) may be involved."
The school division has an Indigenous population of about 20 per cent, Garner added, saying the division has numerous initiatives to "incorporate cultural education into [our] classrooms."
Mylon is the only First Nations student in his class, said Large. After CBC called the school for comment, the school extended an invitation to Large to speak to Mylon's class about Indigenous culture in a few weeks' time.
Large said she wasn't satisfied with their actions.
"I think [the school] just offered that come in and teach the kids about long hair' because she was contacted by [CBC]."
It's not the first time Mylon dealt with kids teasing him about his hair. When Mylon was in the first grade at a different school, a Caucasian boy from his class cut off one of Mylon's three braids and told him "only girls have long hair," said Large.
"Ever since then he refused to wear braids," said Large.
Large complained to Mylon's first grade teacher, explaining to her the significance of long hair in Indigenous culture, who then told Mylon's classmates. However, Large said the child who cut her son's braid was not disciplined and the bullying continued after Mylon changed schools.
After Mylon begged his mother to cut his hair in hopes of getting relief from the bullying, she said she ultimately let him decide.
"I thought to myself I would rather have him cut his hair, instead of suicide over the bullying when he is older. If I did not allow him to make this decision of cutting his braids off…it would've impacted his mental health. His existence to me is so important," said Large.
The family gathered in support around him Saturday at the hair salon, including his grandmother. Large said there were many tears, however they were encouraged by the big, beaming smile from McArthur after his haircut.
"He plans on growing his hair back. He knows it will grow back stronger, faster and he will grow at the same time…he's been extremely happy. It's time for change (though)…my family would also like to say that this is a shout out to other boys with long hair who battle bullying. Boys with braids need to know that they are strong and need to continue to be strong."