Friday, May 22, 2009

“How will I dance now?”

Rowan has been growing his hair. He wants to grow it long, and even though he’s currently suffering from a condition known as, in family parlance, “wide head,” and even though my fingers itch to just touch it up a little bit, to even things out, I haven’t. And I won’t.

In the realm of bodily functions and day-to-day hygiene, I make my kids do lots of things they don’t really want to do. I insist on diaper changes for Isaac, a certain amount of handwashing, toothbrushing, nose wiping, fingernail cutting and the like. I’m pretty clear about daytime clothes versus pajamas, although what Rowan actually wears tends to be what he picks out

But the hair? Now that he’s no longer a recalcitrant toddler, that’s his prerogative, a line I can’t cross.

There’s just something about the idea of forcibly cutting his hair that feels wrong to me. Whether it’s the fact that all I ever wanted as a child were Cindy Brady–pigtails, the Samson overtones, the risks inherent in wielding scissors in front of an unwilling child’s face, or — just maybe — the unnecessary insult to his sense of autonomy and self-identity, it feels viscerally unacceptable.

Which is perhaps why this report of a Thunder Bay elementary school teaching assistant forcibly cutting the hair of a seven-year-old First Nations boy is so upsetting. According to reports, the child wore his hair long because it was important to his traditional dancing practice. The boy told his mother that the teaching assistant lifted him onto a stool, put the scissors to his forehead, and told him not to move. Which he didn’t, because he was too scared. Too scared.

Too fucking scared.

And then she cut his hair in front of his classmates. And then she stood him in front of a mirror and said, “Look at you now.”

What the kid looks like now, according to his mother, are the pictures of his relatives after they were given forcible haircuts at residential school. The boy is upset and ashamed, and heartbroken at the thought of what his shorn hair means for his dancing. “How will I dance now?” he asked his mother. “How will I dance?”

The teacher has been suspended, but the police and the Crown are refusing to press charges of assault. Enough said. This is the city I live in, and its inability to deal with difference — cultural, racial, gendered, religious — has implications for us all. If this boy isn’t safe, then my kids aren’t safe. No one’s are.

I wonder what happened to this kid’s hair. Probably swept into the trash. Because isn’t that how we deal with so many First Nations issues around here? If I could restore it to his head, I would. But if I had a strand of it, I would twine it round my fingers, put it (with his permission) in a locket, wear it next to my heart. Dance, baby: dance your heart out.


  1. This is terrible - thank you for posting.

  2. I'm speechless, heartbroken.

    My son is growing his hair out right now too. It is CRAZY. I love him with short hair but I would never cut his hair against his will either. Children have so little choice in so many things...they should choose how they look. As long as they wear clothes in public :)

  3. Uhm, you're just a goddess. xo

  4. What a touching and powerful story that made my mother lionness want to go running to the Thunder Bay school involved in this fiasco and shave the head of that teacher, in front of her peers. (Who said mother lionness' had to be calm, cool, and collected?) Thank you for sharing this story.

  5. You are the parent.
    You will be making choices for your child until they are an adult.
    Haircuts are just one of those choices.
    Your choice as parent.
    Long or short your child will live, and you will have to teach them how to care for it either way.

    What the TA did was wrong, because the child was not the TA's.
    And battery because the TA had no authority to lay a hand on the child, and actually did, and cut the kids hair.
    Just plain WRONG.

  6. thats so sad thanks for posting, & I like that you let your kid choose to if he wants that. I think kids deserve that :)

  7. I ran across this post through Allison Mack's blog, and I would just like to say how shocked I was to hear this story of the boy. Like, mouth open shocked. I am not a First Nations native, but I am 1/4 Aleut Alaskan Native, and this story really resounded within me and the things I have learned from my father and his father, and the history of our people. I cannot believe they are not pressing charges. What grounds did that woman have to touch another persons child, to humiliate, and to tell him that he would look better another way? It's outrageous. She should have been fired on the spot. I cannot believe people are still disrespecting other people's cultures today. That they could be so ignorant. Thank you for sharing this post. I hope more people will read it and feel the same as I. Perhaps then, more people will stand against these kinds of actions.

  8. everyone thinks that everyone else should act according to their perspectives. The teacher acted with vast immaturity. Even if she didn't know having long hair is a part of the child's traditional practice she should have talked to the parents first.

  9. Tenderly and beautifully said. Thank you.
    It seems as if we've lost the ability to reverence our differences, to revel in the non-banality of humanity and the delicious surprises of acceptance and careful attention.
    I now feel reminded.
    Again, thank you.

  10. its funny we tell our kids we want them to be individuals yet, we hate to see a kid straying from the pack! when will we realize they hypocrites that we are???? It makes me sick to see the way we confuse our children and then act surprised when they turn into bullies or victims of bullies--they are told too often that they should be unique yet they are reprimanded for being different.

  11. I am seething. Who the hell does that Teaching Assistant think she is to decide how someone else's child should look? She should have been fired on the spot and charged for assault.

    Thanks for sharing this. It's sad to see that things like this go on in the world today.

    I hope justice will be done for that poor boy.

  12. As parents we pick and choose our battles with our children....this was not the teachers battle to fight!