By Heather Campbell
SUDBURY – The room was unexpectedly full for the Anishinaabe Long Hair workshop held in early April at the ShkagamikKwe Health Centre. Young men and boys with long hair, some free and others in braids, were coming together to share stories and build strength together.
“Sad that we have to hold this workshop at all, but at the same time it is good to see so many people come out,” said Perry McLeod-Shabogesic, director of traditional programming for Shkagamik-Kwe Health Centre.
Many of the mothers and sons who joined the circle were sharing similar experiences with intolerance and bullying because of their long hair. There is still a significant need to educate both teachers and fellow students of the cultural importance of long hair, and to bring the teachings back to the community where teasing takes place as well.
It has been a long struggle, stemming from residential school and colonization, where children’s hair would be cut off with no regard for importance and a means to take away their identity. In 2009, a teacher’s assistant cut the hair of a young Anishnaabe boy in Thunder Bay bringing the issue out into the public.
Autumn Watson from Curve Lake First Nation attended the workshop with her eight year old son Carson. Although she travelled to attend it was important to participate.
“It was important for my son to see the strong role models and it helps him to remain strong and proud of his hair,” says Watson.
Attendees learned about the special times that hair is grown and the time to cut hair. There is also importance in caring for your hair and the reasons for when it will be cut. “I can see how the teachings are helping them to feel better about themselves. It is all about renewal and a chance at a new life,” shared McLeod-Shabogesic.
It has been important to visit schools across the region to help raise awareness and understanding of the cultural practices, and long hair is a part of those teachings. Listening to the stories of these young boys, it is apparent that continued teaching needs to take place.
The workshop is travelling to Wahnapitae First Nation next with a session taking place on May 26th.
To find out more information contact Shkagamik-Kwe Health Centre at (705) 675-1596.