Boys with Braids: Hair as Resistance to Colonization
Michael Linklater doesn't remember the last time he cut his hair, but he does remember being teased for it at a young age.
The bullying got so bad that he wanted to cut off his braid, recalled Linklater who is Nehiyaw (Cree) from Thunderchild First Nation, Sask.
His mother "begged and pleaded" with him not to cut it.
"She said 'When you get older, you'll thank me for this decision.'"
Today, Linklater's braid "goes about three quarter ways down my back. I thank her to this day for her discouraging me from cutting it," he said.
Linklater is now a father of two young boys. When his sons were bullied at school about their long hair, like he once was, he decided to do something about it.
Linklater started Boys with Braids, an online collective that celebrates Indigenous boys and their hair. Through Boys with Braids, Linklater wants to raise awareness of the cultural significance of why many Indigenous boys and men wear braids.
"My hair is a sacred part of my body"
There is a long history in Canada of Indigenous boys and men being shamed for their long hair. When Indigenous children were forcibly removed from their families and sent to residential schools, their hair was often cut short in an attempt to assimilate them.
"Our hair is as a part of our identity. And it's something that our ancestors didn't have the privilege of deciding whether they wanted to keep their hair or not. Because it was decided for them," explained Linklater.
Indigenous boys and men continue to be shamed for their long hair in Canada, Linklater said. Some boys are teased and their braids are pulled, he said. Others, like 11-year-old Rafe Vadnais from Kainai First Nation, have had their hair cut while at school.
"Growing up we're told that our hair is a sacred part of our body," Linklater said.
As more Indigenous boys and men use #BoysWithBraids and post photos on social media, Linklater hopes it will educate non-Indigenous people about the significance of hair for many Indigenous people.
"It's heartwarming," he said. "There's a lot of young men who are very proud of their hair and their identity. And I think there's a lot of families that are still proud of their traditions and their culture. And anytime that we can celebrate that, it's very inspiring to see."