The Politics of Native Hair Part 1

A RECENT CONVERSATION WITH A DEAR FRIEND OF MINE:

She couldn’t even say it with a straight face. She tried though—had to give her an “E” for “Effort.” She desperately, passionately wanted me to believe that she believed what she was saying.
“No, I really liked you better with long hair.”

>Dead Silence<

I sat back and smirked. I didn’t say anything because I enjoy awkward pauses. By the way, I wouldn't dare call them “pregnant pauses.” You see, I’m a Blackfeet man and she’s an Assiniboine woman—therefore there actually is a chance that a mere conversation between us could result in procreation. I have nieces and nephews who were conceived by email (in fairness, it DID have an attachment) and a cousin who once got a pretty little Dutch girl named “Klazina” pen pal pregnant with a birthday card.

What I’m saying is that we’re fertile people.

But I digress.

Anyway, the prolonged silence prompted her to continue talking—you know, the way people talk to fill empty space. “I mean, yeah, sure it looks nice short. You look clean cut. But I prefer Indian boys with long hair. There’s just something really, really hot AND ‘cultural’ about Indian boys with long hair.”

That was an Interesting thought, so I figured I’d delve a little deeper into that, “What if I weren’t Native? Would I THEN look better with my short hair?”

She conceded, “Mmmmmmmm…probably, yeah. Other people—non-Natives—generally do not look good with long hair. Jonny Depp does, and Brad Pitt in “’Legends of the Fall’. He looked really yummy. But he always looks yummy. But no, if you weren’t Indian, I’d say keep your hair short.”

Now I was really intrigued, so I was obligated by law to keep digging deeper. “What if you didn’t know that I was Indian? Would I instantly become better looking with this particular shorter haircut?” The possibilities started rolling in my head—this could get good. “Or what if I was of Native descent, but not enough blood to be enrolled? Would you still consider me ‘Indian’ enough to have long hair?”

She thought about it. Obviously she didn’t want to say “yes.” But she looked resolute, like I couldn’t shake her from her principle. “Yeah—if I didn’t know that you were Indian, I’d say that I’d like you better with short hair. But you cut your hair short, and I know that you’re Indian. So yeah, you got uglier. In a loving way, of course.” She smiled.

Ouch. “Of course,” I grimaced.

While I felt vindicated that she realized her logical inconsistency about Indian men and their hair, I had to admit my dismay that, in my friend’s eyes, my attractiveness was vasectomized with a few snips of the scissors. Call me “vain.”

END RECENT CONVERSATION WITH MY DEAR FRIEND

Like pretty much any other topics amongst Natives, the topic of “hair” is fascinating and doesn’t lend itself to just one viewpoint, even amongst Natives. There are, of course, historical issues connected with Natives’ hair; we weren’t always allowed to choose the way we styled our hair. Those historical issues will be discussed later on in this series.

But hair is not only a “historical” thing for us, right? I mean, many Natives revere the past, but we’re also fashionable, contemporary people–it can’t be just about “history,” right? My nephews have all kinds of haircuts, mohawks, faux-hawks, mullets and buzz cuts; my nieces love to color their hair from their stereotypical jet black hair to more, let’s say “vibrant” colors. And every single one of those nephews and nieces also has pictures of them with braids and bushy morning hair. This is a series about hair–we’ll have time to talk about more contemporary AND historical issues.

It’s interesting. I wonder about the perception(s) of hair within our Native societies. I remember in college, when a Native had long hair, there was a presumption that the long-haired Native was “traditional;” I think that there’s usually a perception that a Native with long hair IS, in fact, somehow more Native (or Nativer) than a short-haired Native. In that school context, sometimes the long-haired Natives in school would play into that perception that they were, in fact, “traditional” so that they could spew off some pseudo-religious babble and make the giggling little hippie girls think that were “deep.”

Interestingly, the vast majority of the older “traditional” people that I know tend to have very neatly cut hair. Of course, some have braids, and some have mullets—business up front, party in the back. Many women have the hair hanging down and parted in the middle, straight out of a Cher video, some of the serious “rez” bangs and some have more contemporary hairstyles. Point is, there is no one style—fortunately—that defines Natives. Still, in some people’s eyes, the hair makes the Native.

Does it? Is hair more important to Natives than to other ethnicities?

I’m collecting hair stories. Specifically, I want to know about the significance/lack of significance of hair to Native people.

Please send me your hair stories AND pictures–whether it was a fight that you got into because someone teased you about your hair or it was a man who liked you specifically because of your hair. Or maybe you LOVE your new mohawk. Or possibly you’re just really proud of your mane and want to tell people WHY you grew it out or cut it off. Whatever it is. Please also let me know if I can cite these stories in future writing projects–I think that Indian Country, and OUTSIDE of Indian Country is curious about these stories and photos.

gyasi.ross@gmail.com

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Published in: on February 22, 2010 at 10:29 pm  Comments (72)  

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  1. have you seen the chris rock’s “good hair” movie? i have not seen it myself but suffice it to say… if there is a group that might be more obsessed with hair, it might be the black community.

    as for dudes and long or short hair. some guys look better with long hair & others look better with shorter hair. i say sport whatever you like on you.

    my worst haircut was when i was in high school. my mom yelled at my dad for allowing me to get a horrendous haircut. i am so happy that it grew out fast & no one took pictures. whew…

  2. You know I’ve never been one to claim good looks, however every since my hair has grown past my shoulders I have had advances that have not presented themselves before. But i must admit marriage and other endeavors have increased this. Mostly, though, women have stated that long hair has got them initially on the new awkward me. But I think that this has something to do with age. Women like the long haired Gyasi but girls like the fresh to def youngn BLACK foot. I will let yall decipher or pin the tail on the difference or variation of definition. But it would be interesting to know.

  3. i think women catch it harder then men in this category. we’re still held to the same unfair standards of ‘authenticity’ that Natives are subject to but when we decide to cut our hair, we hear about it from EVERYBODY. Even if we do look better with a shorter, more colorful, less-braidable style. i remember chopping my waist length hair in high school because 1. i was tired of being compared to my nemesis and 2. i was just tired of having long hair. my stylish bob was mocked, scorned, gasped at and loathed by the male members of my family. they slowly got over it but not after telling me that they thought i was prettier with long hair and that i would regret it. (insert eye-roll/stink-eye here). it did effect me but not in the way they intended. what difference would their opinions have made anyway? my hair was already gone. their narrow view of what made me pretty or not opened my eyes to the ways that women are held to a different standard then men. i was still me. for them to make such a big deal about the length of my hair was disappointing. it grew back. that’s one of the beauties of cutting it.

  4. Msuen,

    Thank you for finding me on this blog. I have not seen that movie–I heard that it’s not that good. But that’s an interesting observation–I need to check it out now. Makes sense though, right? That IS the name of the movie…

  5. *WOW* just this morning I was wondering why native men who have long hair and wear the turquoise jewelry w/ the leather jackets and fringe ALWAYS have a caucasian wife or girlfriend? I had to share that….then I get online and see that Gyasi has posted a new blog on long hair. *hilarious*

  6. Alright brotha. I dont usually comment but I would say this is a very interesting dialogue you’ve started here.
    We(NiMiPu) refer to our braids as “wapsus” and it is reflected simularly in the Sahaptian dialect in the area where I live.
    Long hair was not of course unusual back in the day. Things are different now. Our current environment seems to dictate our fashion sense and it definitely plays in to our ever evolving native communities and what we deem as traditonal or not.
    I believe every detail of who we are or once were shows in our reflections today. Although it is greying, my “wapsus” serves as one reflection of who I am as man, father or even just and indian. Lose too many of our atributes and we will be as common as the next population but in our own land and only a tribal card to show for it.
    More importantly, I want to set an example for my son and daughter. We have more children with long hair these days on our rez which is a goot thing in my opinion. One day, I will have to cut mine as out of respect to a passing relative, but I will again grow it out. Maybe a nice mullet for a year would be cool. I see they are still alive and well in the nations.
    My advice- Be careful walking in to any of the museums in DC, those lady security officers will jump over their desk to grapple your hair.

    • Well said Brooklyn! I know and have seen it first hand, as I worked and lived amongst the Nimiipuu (Nez Perce) at Lapwai, ID. In my travels across the Nations; I would say the male gender there (for the majority) all don their braids as that of an American Flag! They are a very proud REZ! I too, as a long-haired Native believe our hair should be worn long; not to say, “Hey…look at me, I’m Indian,” but I feel it gives us that distinguished look and reminds people that even in today’s society, we can still wear our hair long even after all these years of the Gov’t trying to “assimilate” the Indian. Though I am a “traditional Skin”, my hair shouldn’t be a reflection of who I am or what I believe in.

    • My tribe believes that long hair is an extension of our spirit. When we cut it, out of loss for a relative,it is burnt to be a sacrifice for our support on their road on the other side and also reflects our loss and pain here in the physical world. We keep it braided to reflect the hair of our mother (sweetgrass) and to not pick up any stray spiritual things we might not want in our life. Some of the more elaborate hairstyles sometimes come in a vision or are even hereditary. I hope people will go back to their own elders and ask why their tribe wears long hair or short hair. That way we can have more informed discussions.

    • I heard this “wapsus” pronounced “whoop-shush”. I always thought the “third” braid that boys had was the one that your mom pulled to get your attention, hence the reason it was pronounced “whoop” and “shush”. Sounds logical. My youngest son has long hair, he is nearing 3-years-old, the people in his life are divided on whether or not we should cut his hair (he is a pretty-boy and is always mistaken for a girl no matter what “boy” clothes I put on him – even a shirt and tie). My husband says he should always have his hair nice and neat, but he doesn’t seem to leave his braids in, so he looks a little wild at times. I’m going to keep it as so, and he’ll view his hair as an extension of himself, as he should :)

  7. Watch that curiosity about Black folks and hair, unless you have a huge appetite and a bottomless belly that is. That is a loaded topic, I suggest keeping the safety on when handling:). As many issues as we have historically about skin tone, “Good Hair”(aka most-like -White-hair) may just win a person an exemption despite failing the “paper bag test” (as in, you should be the color of the bag or lighter). Restrictions will apply, but if in the wind your hair does fly, you have a standby shot at beauty if there are extra seats after everyone with a ticket has boarded. As a result, in kitchens and salons across this country and THE WORLD kinky hair has been named a savage to be converted by way of heat or chemical missionaries. And though they be motherlands, you will be hard pressed to find a black woman in a city in Africa or the Caribbean with the audacity to wear her hair natural.

    Should you walk down that road, there are decades of commentary available well beyond Chris Rock’s film. It’s a horse that has been mercilessly beaten, yet somehow still rides. However, your thoughts about the politics of Native hair are compelling to consider. Especially for someone from a race where it is so often the root of our suffering. Dark skin has always been a cross to bear for people of many cultures all over the world, but I don’t think most Black folks would imagine that any other culture had real hair issues. It’s like being stranded on an island with no one to talk to for years and suddenly hearing a voice call out from another island just beyond your view. I am curious to hear more on the subject. If nothing else, misery loves company…

  8. As a native NDN woman andenrolled tribal member in a tribe that requires 1/4 blood quantum. I must say that I don’t like Native guys with long hair and never have. And you guys are so easy. I’ve had at least four native guys cut their hair just cuz it was one of my requirements. Why don’t you pose that question Mr. Rossi. How many native guys have pulled that move.
    Oh yeah my dad (full blood) always had short neat hair. Only when he was drunk was it ever wild and appeared long.
    My mom (almost full blood) hated his hair long and always pointed out when he needed a haircut.

  9. I want to see a pic of Gyasi short haired before I make my comment ;-)

  10. All men in my fam rock long locks, they never decided it was the dope thing to do at a certain age, from birth on up, all my brothers, my dad and uncles, my sons, have long hair, there is no outside pressure, but pressure from the inside of our family circle, to fully embrace who we are, how we are, how we roll, its considered our good medicine, and I honestly in my own pure tribalistic lover of things Dakota/Lakota, LOVE LONG HAIRED INDIAN MEN……..just cuz you decide to grow your hair at some point in your life, doesnt make you an indian. Just like cutten em off for a reason doesnt make you less…….

  11. i have long hair and always have i’m 1/4 Cherokee. i believe in the ways of them i will fight for any Indian we are people also even if we get treated like crap.

  12. Brooks,

    Thanks for the explanation. I sometimes wish, based upon the amazing comments that you guys write, that YOU would write these blogs. That’s great input Brook–and you know, as well as anyone else, that I really didn’t want to cut my hair. :( I would prefer not to ever “have” to. But we have to do what we have to do, right?

    Winyan,

    I’m going to steal this, okay–”just cuz you decide to grow your hair at some point in your life, doesnt make you an indian. Just like cutten em off for a reason doesnt make you less…….”

    I think that sometimes people think that hair, in itself, is their Native identity. Never been to a ceremony?? No problem, I have long hair. Don’t know anything about your language?? No problem, I have long hair. Etc. (I don’t want to reveal too much about my future episodes in this series).

    Thanks Winyan.

    Lisa,

    I’m gonna have to look up some of this stuff. I haven’t seen “Good Hair,” but I DO like Chris Rock. I don’t know much past that–but I will certainly do some research and am open to suggestions as to reading materials.

  13. If anyone want to join care2.com you will see how much i try to do for the Native Americans they all have my heart i’m working on learning the language

  14. Its true.. there is something about long hair. I actually just cut over a foot off mine last month, (still almost touching the top of my waistband) but it was almost painful to do it.

    I’m more about leverage, myself.. but EYE digress. ;)

  15. As an enrolled native (21/32 yeah you read write, 13/16 dad with 1/2 mom) with an urban assimilated background (a grandparents in boarding school result), I grew my hair long at 21 simply because I couldn’t have it long in middle or high school growing up in conservative school districts or in the military after that.

    Also, I was no Victor the ladies man, and I was surprised that the hair made things easier–way easier. Now I am passed my prime, married, and lazy and getting two haircuts a year is easier than trying to figure out what to do. People who know me always get mad when I cut the pony tail too short, since I used to have it hella long. I do find that plenty of urban types pimp the longhairs, and I fulfill that stereotype, but for my own reasons (ladies and now laziness). But in my defense, my tradish friends in college said, “You’re an OK urban, you don’t pretend to know stuff you don’t know.”

    Two positive things about keeping it long is that a bunch of elders have randomly told me they like seeing the longhairs coming back and more than a few of the native women have been appreciative of the longhairs as well–urban, tradish, and hybrids. Should we update the tried and true country-western phrase of “All hat and no cowboy” to “All hair and no NDN?” The joys of tribal identity politics!

  16. I don’t know if I “look better” with long hair or not. Among the Lakota Oyate, if your hair is cut short it is a sign to all that you are in mourning. I cut my hair when my Tanke/Older Sister descended into alcoholism in 1985 and kept it that way until the mourning period ended for her when I went through the Ista Mni Na Kici Pakintapi or Wiping of the Tears Ceremony (she was murdered in 1987).

    One other thing; I’m proud that at 51 I have hair. I may be heavy but at least I’m not bald (by the way, I am losing the weight)

  17. I am a Shoshone man and I have been growing my hair for most of my 31 years. It was explained to me that the hair is part of the growth of our spirit. As we grow as human beings, trials and tribulations we go through are metaphysically connected to our hair. We grow as people, and that is contained in our locks. I often braid my hair for ceremonies or special occasions and it is an expression of pride in the endurance and perseverance of our Indian people. Many of our ancestors were annihilated, we are here because of how they fought for us. I wear my hair long to honor them and will continue to grow it, until the need comes to cut for respect of a loved one, and then I will grow it again.

    • Well said! Most on this post don’t seem to get the spiritual reason behind long hair and its meaning to us. I see a lot of casino ndn’s who never knew they were ndn until money came rolling in trying to grow their hair – I guess to show the blond women they are true braves. Many end up with little piggy tails as the hair thins over age. Haha.

  18. Personally, I love long hair on men regardless of nationality… I’m not the norm on that for sure though. Personally, I grow my hair out until its long enough to donate for Locks of Love (12 inches) and then I donate it–usually every 3 years or so. It’s a great charity that makes wigs for children with cancer… I hope you donated your beautiful braids.

    • Good girl–:) at loving long hair. I donated the first, the longer portion–yes.

      • Glad to hear it. If you had to lose it, at least someone else who needs it will get to have it. And of course, the great thing about hair is that it grows back (I guess unless you are one of the unlucky!)

  19. Hey chief, WTF= Way To Funny, “I am wind in his hair,can’t you see i’m your Fren!” long,short,or none,which ndn’s,rez or urban?(whazza matter urban,can’t braid your hair,Huh?!)reminds me,once way back in the day “they” could put ndn’s in jail for wearing long hair.

  20. I am 3/4 native american, 1/4 white. I have tan skin. I am 1/2 Osage. The Osages were a great warrior nation and economic power of the southern plains. Some early artists and explorers said that the Osages were the finest looking men of any race and we were also the tallest men of any race in north america with our men ranging in height from 6′ to 7′ tall. I happen to be 6’5” tall. The Osage traditional haircut of 120 yrs ago and before was a short (roach)woodland indian type haircut with a scalplock. Osage men even used to pluck their eyebrows clean and all facial hair. In traditional old time Osage society the shorter your hair was it made for a more manly look. As I said earlier early white explorers, settlers, and artists said the Osages were the finest looking, handsomest men of all the tribes. Now when the Osages adopted to the native american church some did start wearing braids like the plains tribes. Also I am 1/16 Sisseton-Wahpeton Dakota and the Sioux did wear long hair. The purpose of this post is to state all native american men didn’t wear long hair traditionally and they could wear short hair and still be tall, handsome, powerfully manly, strong, native husbands, fathers, hunters, and warriors.

    • So you are a tall, handsome, powerful, manly, strong Indian man. Now that I gotta see!!

    • Uh, did you ever stop to think they thought the Osage were ever so handsome because they had short hair…like themselves??? Just a thought…

  21. I am 1/2 Osage, 3/16 Cherokee, 1/16 Sisseton-Wahpeton Dakota, and 1/4 English and French. The Osages used to be the richest people per capita in the world due to our oil royalties in the 1920s and was the first tribe in the late 1800s to be paid our annuities in cash rather than rations due to our people and leaders going to Washington D.C. convincing the bureaucrats to pay us in cash because we have always been smart economically. This allowed us to keep our traditions intact because we didn’t have to worry about day to day survival and having to leave our traditions and ceromonies behind in the fight to provide for and feed our wives and children. We still have ceremonial dances every summer which we have done since the 1880s. This is not a powwow but, old time ceremonial dancing. The French were our friends, intermarried with us, and the French Jesuits introduced us to the Catholic Church as well as my Osage mother who attended Catholic schools all through elementary schools through high school. I do attend the Roman Catholic church as do many Osages. We liked the strict structure because our old time religion was also highly structured. I also attend my father’s familys’ native american church services which have had native american church services for over 100 yrs. Both of my parents are Osages. I am a descendant of Nathaniel Pryor who was a sergeant on the Lewis and Clark expedition, later a captain in the US Army, a trader, and later an agent for the Osages. He also was the first white person allowed to formally marry into the Osage tribe. He married our hereditary Chief’s daughter, my great grandmother from way back when. I am a descendant of old time Osage medicine men as well as a descendant of native american church medicine men as well as a descendant of hereditary and elected chiefs, warriors, and related to Osages from all walks of life. I speak the Osage language and I am learning more all the time. I am identifiably indian as I have tan skin. I digress but, I just wanted to reiterate that an indian does not have to have long hair to be traditional as I have said earlier traditional Osages’ hair was short.

  22. [...] To read the rest of the column, go to Gyasi Ross’s blog. [...]

  23. I was once told by a medicine man that our soul/spirit is in our hair. He thanked the younger generation that still wore their hair long. He explained the significance of cutting it when you are in mourning. The ceremony involved to honor your loved one who has passed on. In the keeping of the soul ceremony the soul is kept for one year with a lock of their hair. After a years time the lock is burned and the soul is released. So to me it means that our hair is part of our spirituality. I will also say that most native women find native men with long hair extremely attractive.

  24. My hair has been an essential part of my identity since I can remember. I’ve never cut it and I don’t ever intend to. It’s never been about sex appeal or fashion, although I do find long hair incredibly sexy. Having long hair and appreciating long hair is something deep inside me I can’t express in English. It’s a way of acknowledging that we are part of the people and that we are all connected. Long hair is part of our collective essence.

    One of my favorite poets, Ofelia Zepeda, says it the best:

    Long Hair

    On the other side they sing and dance in celebration.
    When we get there our hair must be long so that they recognize us.
    Our hair is our dress.
    It is our adornment.
    We make sure it is long so they recognize us.

    This poem is in Ocean Power:
    Poems from the Desert by Ofelia Zepeda

    Don’t buy it from Amazon.com – they censor critical Natives.

    This is a good discussion. You’ve made me want to work on a long hair poem.

    Thanks Bro

  25. It hard for young native boys to have long hair. They are always mistaken for a girl. You could have them in all blue clothing or boys sportswear and because of their long hair they always say “what a cute little girl”. It makes them so mad that they have to correct them and tell them they are a boy. My cousin used to always say “pull down your pants son and show them you are a boy”. He was a riot. But once they get older they are always praised for their beautiful braids.

  26. Hair is whateva u make it I guess and since everyone is so dang unique, everyone is goin to rock a unique do that somehow projects a desired image of who they are. Although my haircut wasn’t for beauty reasons or the latest trend (my grampa died so I cut it) I member a few months ago a man saying my haircut made me look like a little girl and a pedophile’s dream lol. Anyways. That is a pretty nutty stigma native people face regarding somethn like hair, especially bc I’m sure that even back in the day people rocked all kinds of different styles jus like we do today. Btw, u didn’t get uglier no cuz of ur haircut is cuz of your inner beauty. Although, the braids were dope…

    • AW man talk bout half awake. Hahahahaaaa The las part was spozed to say u didn’t get uglier cuz of ur haircut! U got that inner beauty thang goin on.(I thnk its called intelligence)…although the braids were dope…

  27. Well, you hooked me this time Gyassi. Having been a bald Indian woman very recently I am compelled to reply. Plus a fan of mine read an old issue of The Circle Nwsp. and wondered why I had cut my hair off. (Story at 10 p.m.) I used to have the stereotypical “Indian” hair, long, glossy, glorious and it swept over my flat ass with an audible “tss-zing!” when I tossed it, totally ala Cher. I loved that men loved it and women who could not grow hair were envious. I took pains to maintain my mane. I despise Indians who sport long hair but their hair is all thin, lank, stringy and discolored. Its a personal affront to me because not only do I have to look at it but non-Indians think thats how we all front our hair. AND those same Indians seem to think they get Bonus Indian Points for having long(er) hair no matter how matted their braids get. My opinion is this; if individual Indians grow long hair to define themselves as Indian whether its their tribal culture or not…. Well then ya’ll bought into Caucasian-American popular cultural stereotypes of what an Indian is or should be. I say wear what you feel good in and yeah, cut if you want to or feel you have to, the possession of hair or lack thereof does not define yooz as Indian at all. Your Tribal bus pass does. Right now my hair is growing out until I decide what to do with it again. Some Indians need to get that its the 21st century and we have a Black guy as President. I know!!!!! Bonus: My cousin once dyed her hair – she wanted to be a blonde and it turned out like Orangutan-orange. I still laugh. Double Bonus: I met Rodney Grant – he has a Super-Mullet! Make up your mind, plz!

    • You really shaved your head? You must be a Native Brittany Spears. Don’t hate on people with bad genetics. They can’t help it if their hair is thin or what color it is.

      • I wrote about lank, stringy, Kid Rockish nasty hair to get a reaction. My point is if you choose to have long hair take care of it. Whether individual Indians want to be or not they are pan-cultural envoys. Ask your nearest Black person how they feel about Buckwheats coiffure. Or, horror of horrors, Lil Wayne.

  28. Long hair doesn’t make you Native. I always had long hair due to my dancing. I only had it short one time when my sister jacked my hair up when I was a kid, then I got a Pixie. errrrrrrrrrrrrr

    I always get it trimmed & it grows back too. I had 4 inches trimmed off now I have stubby braids for now.

    Whatever floats your boat or canoe. Float on…………

  29. First I will reply to you Gyasi, in my personal experiences, whenever I cut my hair when it was extremely long, all my boyfriends (who are also Native) would say, “You look white now.” Which was really annoying to me because I felt, can’t I just have short hair once and awhile? And of course their hair would be short. I kind of felt like it was a gender double standard. I would agree that some Natives grow their hair long to be ‘authentic’ or appear so to play into a stereotype for their own gain. I have met several Natives who got caught up in that whole “I’m an Indian, look at me! I’m so fascinating!” thing. I think people should wear their hair however they want and be able to not have their identity called into question. I also think that if someone wants to be traditional they should learn how their own specific peoples hair was done, not just assume that every tribe had the same hairstyle.

    Next I want to address something Kristine said: “I despise Indians who sport long hair but their hair is all thin, lank, stringy and discolored. Its a personal affront to me because not only do I have to look at it but non-Indians think thats how we all front our hair.” I think that is an ignorant thing to say, especially the first part. Its like they are saying if you don’t have the thick glossy black hair like she does then don’t grow it out because you embarrass her. Wow. Everyone’s hair is different, its not like people can purposely grow their hair thin. You shouldn’t knock on someone else’s hair because it doesn’t fit your belief on how it should be, isn’t that like stereotyping?

    • Do you have any interest in elaborating more, via email, about the first part of your comment–”whenever I cut my hair when it was extremely long, all my boyfriends (who are also Native) would say, “You look white now.” Which was really annoying to me because I felt, can’t I just have short hair once and awhile?”

      I think that’s fascinating.

  30. As I was reading this post I began thinking about why I let my hair grow. One reason was that not many Jemez(Hay-mes) guys had their hair long. I wanted to have long hair so that I can keep a small part of our culture from going away. Having long hair doesn’t make you more Jemez, or more traditional, but it does help preserve what we are as a people. One style that is traditional to Jemez and other Pueblo people (even Navajo), is the “chongo”. It is where the hair is tied up in a bun with a woven hair tie, and along with that, the hair would be cut to have bangs and sideburns. Many of us put our up like this for ceremonies or special occasions, but the bangs and sideburns aren’t really being employed in the style as much in Jemez, but is employed more at other neighboring Pueblos.
    I have been asked a few times why I let my hair grow, and I just tell them that I wanted to. I’ve never asked them, and maybe I should, why is yours so short?

  31. I am Oglala Lakota wicasa, and I have had long hair all my life. I did not let it grow because the girls liked it. I did not let it grow because it looked nice. I did not let it grow to be more “indian”. I did not let it grow because I was made to.
    I let it grow because my Wowasake (Strength) is in it. I let it grow because my ate (father) instilled pride in having long hair. I let it grow to honor my ancestors. They see me with my hair, and they are proud of me for not forgetting them.
    I also wanted to point out that the cutting of our hair due to mourning a loved one is half true. We did cut our hair when a loved one passed on, but only when that loved one was murdered, and you wanted revenge on a particular individual. Today, our people have forgotten this, and cut their hair short whenever a loved one passes away.

    If the latter was true then all of our ancestors would have had shorter hair.

    • This is interesting what you say about only cutting your hair when a loved one is murdered. Since I have read this I have asked several knowledgeable elders in the community and a few medicine men that I know and they all said the same thing, they never heard that it had to do with murdered loved ones or revenge. They felt that was bordering on messing with the medicine negatively (revenge) that was never recommended ever.

  32. You know whose got the best head of hair right now in my opinion… SHAUN WHITE. Check him out in the new rolling stone magazine. There needs to be some kind of a law aganist him ever getting a haircut. I say Shaun’s got the best hair by a white guy since Ted Nugent back in his great white buffalo era!!!\m/!!!

    • LOL! I love Shaun White’s hair! He can rock Red Hair in a way I have never seen a man (or woman for that matter) rock red.

      • Very much agree! He does have a nice head of hair, all fire-y red and wavy…

    • As a new reader who is enjoying the topic being discussed, I am curios if any posts are from Non Natives such as myself? I certainly appreciate the preference for long hair. This was my style as a young adult although I have grown more conservative I must say. Still, I can tell you that when I walk out of the hair salon after a new cut, my hair is much longer than many who are walking in for their cuts. Yeah, Shaun White is a trend setter…my pre-teen son looks just like him, and my wife approves.

  33. It’s official then. I will name my next new band “SHAUN WHITES HAIR”. Look for the C.D. sometime next year!

  34. Knight of Sword, Alauki, Hehaka–thank you for the history lessons. Truly. Aho! I do not claim to know everything–I’ll go into much more depth later on about my thoughts, but suffice it to say that I’m still developing my history and knowledge about everything…still very much a work in progress. So I thank you for you folks’ input.

    (I really like this format for the comments better–it’s hard to get your info in in 500 characters, right?)

    Laura-thank you for the poem. Beautiful.

    Everyone else, thanks for the comments. Once again, I’m soliciting “hair stories”–I’d love words and pictures that illustrate the meaning of hair to you all. So let’s talk.

    Once again, thanks.

  35. Who’s Shaun White?

    I’m not smart. Help a (newly) short-haired brother out.

  36. Shaun White?! Rockstar, snow boarder extraordinaire! I can’t believe don’t know the Flying Tomato! Google is your friend Gyasi…. It’s all good though, I still got luv for a short haired brown boy.

  37. Long before DNA, we knew that you carry your whole life in your hair, your shadows, your triumphs, your loves everything you eat or whatever comes into your environment. To cut it off is to erase your past. This is why we need ceremonies for those who are forced to cut their hair due to institutions – the military, the boarding schools, even some places of employment still try to force us to cut our hair to break us down and build us up in the the Whiteman’s desired image. Cults use this to destroy the individuality in a person so they can instill a new, more cooperative personality. Growing it long is rebellion. Even the dumbass white hippies knew this

  38. [...] take a brief break from talking about hair and braids/whether carpets match drapes/mullets hairstyles for a brief second to discuss the [...]

  39. Well the thing about that long way Indian Cher hair for women is that it instantly makes you a target for other indian women who have had too many cocktails as in, “Hey, let me thin that shit out for you!”Especially if you have said “hey” to their latest snag.

  40. geez, this hair notion has got me! I’ve always had long hair pretty much. I sometimes think about cutting it, but can’t let go of how much pleasure I derive from ticking off white women with that stringy old dry straw like substance clinging to their heads that they refer to as “hair.” But seriously, my nice long ole black hair is a pleasure, not sure if it makes me feel more indian. Indian men look great in long hair, let go of the politics and enjoy it!

  41. The crazy thing is, at the end of the day…it’s HAIR!! Whatever we do to the surface, the root goes untouched and it grows back. IT GROWS BACK. Does an immortal write a will?… Take the society out of it and sit with the nature of it. Do whatever you want to your hair, as long as its what you WANT to do as opposed to what you think you are SUPPOSED to. So many small things made big and big things made small… I often wonder how civilized civilization has made humanity after all.

  42. Saying that it’s “just hair” is adopting the oppressor’s way of thinking. This country is an assimilation beast. From Manifest Destiny to the cultural appropriation of the nuage hippy movement. The fact that people make such willfully ignorant statements like the one above only proves how successful the Whiteman is in destroying our cultural identities and replacing them with homoginized, whitewashed pabulum that doesn’t threaten the status quo at all. Every NDN knows deep inside how important expressions of cultural pride and unity is. The forces that say, “it’s just hair” “it will grow back” are our true enemies. We’ve been conditioned into such mindless obedience that we don’t know how to resist assimilation anymore and we need to get that back. I say, more power to anybody who rejects the conformity imposed on them by this sick society. (But I still have a negative reaction to the silly nuage hippies with blond dreadlocks calling themselves anarchists because I know one day they will cut off the dread and become part of the corporate beast) If it were just hair, then the beast wouldn’t force you to remove it in order to control you. People need to start thinking about what they say and stop mindlessly repeating hackneyed sound bites. If cutting off hair was a small thing, the military wouldn’t give everyone buzz cuts on their first day. If cutting off hair was a small thing, the boarding schools wouldn’t have cut off NDN hair on the first day. Lisa P needs to visit the Heard Museum and feel the impact of the Boarding School Days exhibit. We all need to THINK before we post. The Whiteman’s lies repeated over and over again have become truth to too many. We are drowning in them.

  43. What I find most horrible is when a man that is ageing and balding plays a trick! First they hide the baldspot with a baseball cap. Then take the five hairs they have left and put them in a scraggely non brushed 8″ long ponytail. Dated a man like that. Really handsome guy. But the ponytail had long outlasted it’s appeal for him.Some people say I have beautiful hair. Most women ask what shampoo I use. It isn’t the shampoo you use. I take and have taken upward of ten years crucial nutritional supplements for the health of my body, hair and skin. I do not have red hair. It is copper. I am an enrolled person of Indian and Scottish descent and proud of both. I also donated a foot of my hair when my grandma died in 2008. It was a horrible time of greif. My hair is getting grey in parts and I love it. People thought I was often a decade younger than I am. Got carded at bars at 38 years old. Tried styles and cuts. Not me. Just not me. Long braided hair does not make a person an Indian. But I have always worn my hair long. Simple. I grew up farming and find jeans and a tee shirt comfortable. I am no wannabe. Because in reality I just wanna be me. That must suck for some people.

  44. It’s snowing out. I got time. Something else to say. Often I will wear my hair in a ponytail with a pretty beaded barette. Wearing my hair that way for twenty years. I have had comments. Such as ‘wanna be’ thrown at me. Can’t stand it. While ‘wanna be’ folk are a pitiful lot they fill the sad sorry sick ego needs of many I have met. My grandmother travelled the world for Indian affairs. She also travelled to Scotland and learned all she could about that part of me.Because my grandmother loved me….. I learned to be me and love me. That’s all. That’s good enough. There are a few full bloods that roam the parts that I am from. Getting to know these women they soon had no “use” for me. I was neither a full blood in their little circle nor was I a ‘wanna be’ that worshiped them from their other little circle of freinds that fed their ego. My grandma had a long black braid then at some point she cut it in a modern style. My mom always had her black hair to her rear then cut it in an ultra short metropolitan style. Who cares? You either Indian or your not. You either have traditional values or you don’t. Some of the most traditional looking men I have met hmmmmm you look into their hearts and what do you see? The best traditional man I was ever with was here building our casino hotel… Short hair. All Indian. Heart. Mind. Soul. Hard working no presumptions about him. Simple. He was a Mohawk. Worked hard for all he had. Hair? Hair is about indentity. Yes and no. Not in these modern times.

  45. My opinion on Native men and hair… I do not believe that hair makes a native man or woman. I believe our native people are beautiful beyond the surface. Im not predjuduce to other races but a white man with long hair or short does not appeal to me. I favor the brown skin man. Historically our people have always varied in length of hair since we often cut our hair to show the respect of a loved ones journey to the spirit world. I belive their were other reasons our people cut their hair but our native people are beautiful, we cannot be stripped of that. I have seen your new hair cut, you look handsome both with or without your hair.

  46. [...] I defer to many of the informative comments (thanks for all of the great comments!) in the The Politics of Native Hair, Part 1. As the comments seemed to show, there’s just something about Natives’ hair that those [...]

  47. I’m half Indian, half Mexican, married to a white guy who is more in to Indian culture than some “real” Indians I know. lol We had a baby boy 3yrs ago. Our son came out with lots of hair…. “true Indian baby” everyone said. He had his first haircut (bangs only) at 7 months old because he was leaning his head back to see through his bangs. I kept it longish and grit my teeth every time someone would tell me what a cute girl I had. I live in Oklahoma so it’s not there aren’t Indians around to sport long hair. Anyway, about 4 months ago I cut my boys hair. I cried while it was being cut. It had to be done though. It was a fight to wash it, comb it, hell even to touch his head! Now- no fights! I miss his long hair. Why was I trying to grow it long? Because I wanted everyone to know he was Indian (he’s very light skinned). My husband reminded me that being Indian isn’t about his skin color or hair length. It was how he raised and what tradition and culture we instill in him. He’s right. When did I start seeing long hair as “real Indian”? BTW I do love long hair on Native men. I love a bald head on white guys! I’m ate up and confused! Gyassi… I will admit when I seen your picture on Indian Country I just smiled and thought “check out that cute ass Native”!

  48. [...] Thing About Skins And Other Curios *The Politics of Native Hair Part 1 [...]

  49. Hair is not only significant culturally and historically amongst Native people. I think the more you delve into this topic you will find that hair is significant regardless of your ethnicity. He is definitive. For instance, some people with straight often wish they had curly hair and often go to the extreme of perming their hair in an attempt to make it curly. Some people with curly hair often want straight hair and go to the extreme of perming it to make it straight. Some people with dark hair want light hair and vice versa. Some people who cut their hair short want it long again and some people who grow out their hair want it short again. Hair is an extension of you, your personality, fashion/taste, desire, mood, social-economic status, culture, spirituality, religion, and life events. Some people who experience traumatic events often make drastic changes to their hair. Some people, unfortunately lose their hair whether because of genetics or illness. Hair is a multi-billion dollar industry. Some people cut their hair for money.

  50. This is an interesting topic and a huge issue in the African American community. Gyasi you have written this well and your introduction was hilarious!

    I am of African and Native American descent (Eastern Band Tsalagi). I remember as a child; and even now getting the “You have really nice hair, you must have Indian in you” comments from people. Or they just conclude I’m Puerto Rican. When I show people pictures of my Native American grandmothers, I can see the look on their face expecting to see women with two long braids wearing feathers and fur. Its funny… Most people have this old image in their psyche about how an Indian looks. So many of my (FBI) Menomonee and Potowatomi friends get confused with being Mexican, Asian, and it may surprise some… even Black. Why?… because they have short hairstyles. Some of them are really really dark skinned too, so that brings on whole other issues (another topic, I know) with people who arent familiar with Native diversity. They have this pigeon-holed image of Indians. And most of it is rooted in the hairstyle one is wearing. In any case…

    We are who we are. Regardless of the hairstyle. No one is expecting me to wear Kinte cloth and turquoise jewelry with braids, feathers, and fur to prove my lineage. I am who I am. A descendant of beautiful and proud American Indians with a rich history and a even brighter future!

    HOMELAND SECURITY/FIGHTING TERRORISM SINCE 1492

  51. Quick question – has any of your research uncovered the historical significance of the Mohawk Warlock/Scalplock/Don Eagle Haircut?

    • Nope! Do you have any info on this?

      • Where’ve you been Gyasi? Missing your insite. Hope things are going well for you!

  52. To my surprise the topic of hair came up in a graduate class of dress code, ethics in a Public Administration course taking-HRM532. The stories here took me back to many events as my grandmother would wear her hair in a bun and when sleeping with her one night at a very young age, she let it down this was the first time I know her hair fell on her back. My brother wore his hair long for many many years–when he would walk out of the bathroom from the shower– well lets just say “beautiful hair” as he kept his braided as well. I wore my hair long for many of years until my mother passed and then cut it short,trying to let it grow back I was detected with breast cancer and then the death of my husband. I have been asked, “why out of all the cancer ladies I know you do not let your hair grow back?” This year after six years the hair is tied back and growing once again.The mourning process must be ending. I have been shared by a Navajo friend years ago when the women cut their hair this stops the rains from coming, I am aware of the Longhair clan with the Cherokee, I know that I have strength when my hair is longer, the self confidence. Yes my believe system, tells me that native people are to follow traditions and a man or lady of native ways should hold on to the ways taught and if long hair is to be long let it grow.

  53. Try the traditional Mohawk warrior haircut

  54. Long hair looks better to me. Not only on natives, but on people from everywhere in the world. I’m an European (yes, here in north our ancestors also drove aboriginals of Finland north to settle in south which i’m very shamed of) and i don’t see long hair wouldn’t suit some people. I’ve been growing my hair since 17, 3 years now (and yes, i’m a male) and i get confidence and inner strength, the longer the hair, the more of those. Mostly i grow my hair due to my daoist attitude to life, what’s natural, don’t fight against it and hair growth is one thing that i classify into those things.

    Due to i prefer long hai, i still don’t require it. It’s only my opinion. I don’t either believe and do the things as they’ve made here for centuries. World is changing radically and everyone should have the right to decide about themselves.


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