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Exhibition highlights long-hair significance in Indigenous culture

The Tsleil-Waututh Nation led an exhibition called “Boys Who Braid Their Hair” to empower young Indigenous boys and educate them on the cultural significance and importance of long hair for Indigenous men.

The exhibition took place at the Nature House at the Wild Bird Trust at North Vancouver’s Maplewood Flats. It showcased photographs of səlilwətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh Nation) men proudly wearing their braids alongside a documentary showcasing interviews with Elders, men, and boys, each discussing the meaning and spiritual significance of long hair in Indigenous culture.

The exhibition was extended after an initial two-day stint at the Polygon Gallery in April and continued from April 25 until May 19 at the Wild Bird Trust’s Nature House in North Vancouver’s Maplewood Flats Conservation Area.

The exhibition was inspired by a movement started by athlete Michael Linklater in 2015. Dubbed Boys with Braids, the campaign was a reaction to his own experience being bullied at school for wearing braids, and the similar experiences his sons were subjected to years after.

In Tsleil-Waututh Nation culture, children’s first haircuts do not take place until they are at least four years old. Hair is considered sacred and holds strong cultural importance to Indigenous peoples. It is usually only cut on men when mourning the loss of a loved one. Growing long hair is a way of honoring the ancestors who were subjected to the residential schooling system and were never given the chance to celebrate their culture. It is synonymous with preserving the identity of Indigenous culture.

The organizers aim to empower young people by providing them with an opportunity to learn about the culture’s connection with long hair and understand the sacredness around it.