SACRAMENTO, Calif. — A conference, aimed at educating Native American youth — specifically boys — about the importance and traditions of wearing their hair long is taking place on Nov. 12 at American River College in Sacramento.
It's called the statewide Boys With Braids California conference.
ABC10 had the chance to speak with Executive Director of Native Dads Network Inc., Michael Duncan; a member of various Native American tribes including the Maidu, Wintun, Wailaki and Western Band Shoshone, about the conference, how it came about, and why Native American boys and men have long hair.
"I'm a little older, (I went to) school in the 70s, but I grew up with long hair," said Duncan. "And so growing up with long hair, and being bullied, called names, and you kind of just deal with it ... but it got me in trouble."
Duncan, who is now proudly clean and sober, said at the time he developed an addiction to alcohol. He also pointed to the feeling of "losing my identity as a native person."
As he became a father and raised young boys who also had long hair, he noticed a similar pattern to his own experience.
"I started noticing the same kind of pattern, as far as I'm being bullied, them being identified (not) as a male, called a girl, and so there's a real lack of awareness," he said. "I always wanted to do something to educate non-natives or people, even our own people, about why we wear our hair long."
Brought to the United States in 2015, the Boys with Braids conference took place in California. Before this, Duncan said it was hosted in Canada and started by Michael Linklater, who is Nehiyaw (Cree) from Thunderchild First Nation, Sask.
"I reached out to him (on) messenger, and he messaged me back and he told me that, 'Yes, it's a program we're doing here,' and he had the same exact story that I did," said Duncan. "It (is) just really (to) protect my boys and the youth in our community, and to really encourage the boys to grow their hair out long... and to give them a sense of pride. We developed a curriculum, kind of an agenda to kind of uplift, to motivate, to strengthen, to educate our youth, why we grow our hair out long."
According to Duncan, there are many reasons why Native American boys and men have long hair. His reason dates back to a sad time in American history.
"I grow my hair long for all the ones that couldn't, that would be my answer," he said, alluding to the time Native youth were forced into boarding schools. "Because there's a whole bunch of people that came before me, that weren't allowed to... their hair was cut off... so I wear my hair long for them, for my ancestors."
He also explained other reasons.
"I think traditionally — and some (knowledge) has been lost — but we knew that it was like, the way that I was explained, it's like it was another sense. Like it was a sixth sense that we had, (it) helped us (when) we're hunting, in war, but it's also a sacred thing that we took care of because of again of the thing it was connected to -- our spirit. Our hair was connected to our spirit and our hair blocks that part of our spine where (negative things go) so it just protected us in that way, in a lot of ways. That's why when we lose somebody, we cut it to allow that spirit to go where it needs to go, but you know each tribe obviously varies."
Boys with Braids California conference:
- When: Nov. 12, 2022
- Where: American River College, (4700 College Oak Dr., Sacramento, CA)
- Open to everyone, Native American and non-native