The BWB Project
In October of 2020 we started an unregistered non-profit initiative called Braves Wear Braids. The purpose of this initiative is to support Indigenous youth in the efforts of carry on the cultural importance of wearing their hair in braids. We want to encourage, and embolden youth to wear their braids as a physical symbol of cultural strength and pride, and to take an active part in their own histories. We recognize the weight our youth carry by wearing braids, from bullying, to being called girls (de-masculinization), to the weight of trying to retain a significant part of your culture alone. We also recognize the pain many residential school survivors carry in regards to having their braids cut-off, and the shaming involved within that system that has been passed on inter-generationally.
Indigenous males wearing braids is a long-standing cultural practice within plains Indigenous nations and is a symbol of connection to cultural and historical roots. It is a passion of ours, as I have personally experienced the difficulty of growing up with braids and understand both the struggles of keeping braids and the pride it brings when a person reaches adulthood without cutting their hair.
The intent is to support an under-represented group in the Indigenous youth community and their caregivers by creating a tool for parents, caregivers, and schools to educate on the importance of braids historically and in a modern context. Without this feeling of connection to history and culture, indigenous children run the risk of feeling displaced from their own place within the culture. While the BWB initiative specifically targets indigenous boys, it will also have knock-on effects with young women as well, as the underlying message is about cultural retention and taking pride in elements of indigenous culture that have been ridiculed.
Engaging students at an early age creates an awareness of the significance of boys taking pride in their long hair and by extension all indigenous people taking pride in their heritage, and the importance of others in respecting their decision and efforts to strengthen their heritage. Working with school boards provides fertile grounds for indigenous youth to understand the importance of taking pride in their heritage and seek opportunities to display their pride by wearing braids.
This further stems the tide of negative perceptions of indigenous culture that were broken due to assimilationist policies such as residential schools and disenfranchisement. This also serves to create a support network within schools in which individual students can band together as a community and mutually support each other’s efforts to grow out their hair, and by extension strengthen their pride in their culture and history and can create an opportunity for non-Indigenous students to learn and show support.
Braids create a tangible reflection of culture and history that is immeasurable. I have had my own people come up to me and express their gratitude for someone growing out their hair, and their desire to grow out their own hair in their youth. Programs such as this integrated into the school systems or being accessible as a tool for people can be used as motivation to keep on with growing braids and support for youth to connect with indigenous people that have also made the tough choice to stand up for their culture.
We are currently in the process of creating a video using Elder interviews, as well as younger Indigenous men who can speak to their own experiences of their struggles with keeping their braids, and some who were never taught the value of braids growing up, but who made a life changing decision to grow their braids out later in life. Although this video focuses on Indigenous culture, it is meant to be inclusive in hopes of bringing understanding to why Indigenous men and boys wear their hair in braids. Our aim is to end the bullying that surrounds this issue that can be intentional and unintentional through misunderstanding. We are strong believers in the idea that education is the bridge to understanding. This is a video we hope to be able to share with school boards in Canada to be used in schools as a tool for awareness and understanding on Orange Shirt Day, Indigenous Awareness Week, and within the anti-bullying curriculum. We are also planning to make it accessible to everyone by making it available online for their own personal understanding, or to be used in cultural sensitivity training in the workplace.
The video should be available January 2022.