The Importance of Long Hair for Men and Boys in Indian Country from a Long-Haired Boy in Indian Country

By Tdohasan Sunray, TYRC Youth Ambassador, age 16

Guest contributions do not represent the views of the United States Government or the U.S. Department of Justice.

One day as a little boy with a buzzed hairdo I went up to my mom and told her, “I
want braids!” Hearing a statement with such conviction from a four year old boy caught her
off guard. Excitedly she replied, “Alright then, let’s get you some braids.” I did just that. My
bold declaration also decided the fate of my two younger brother’s hair. Ever since that time,
I wondered why my little mind thought this. As I grew older, I realized that maybe it was just
because I thought they looked cool or maybe because my cousins had braids. My reasons as
to why I have long hair have changed dramatically since then. At this point in my life, I have
gained a deeper understanding and appreciation for long hair in American Indian men and

Every culture has something that separates it from the rest, for some American Indian
men and boys that something is hair. Today’s writing focuses primarily on the importance of
long hair for men and boys. We’ve all seen the erroneous portrayal of the young, obnoxiously
shredded, long haired brave whose name is probably Strong Hawk or Lonesome Buffalo.
Obviously, this representation is unequivocally wrong. For American Indians, hair is so much
more meaningful than that.

That brings me to my main question. What is the importance of long hair for men and
boys in Indian Country? The answer to this question is not as straightforward as one would
hope. Many people have many different answers. For the most part, men and boys have
multiple reasons why they grow their hair long as opposed to one. With all of the varying
reasons, this entry could go on for days. However, I am going to discuss some of my main
reasons why.

One reason may be because long hair has been in a person’s family for a prolonged
time. For example, my father has long hair and his father had long hair. For some, long hair
has been all they’ve ever seen the males in their family have, so they grow it out.
Some men and boys grow their hair long to serve as a continuation of their culture. It
is a way to honor their ancestors. It shows that they are in touch with who they are as an
Indigenous person. In some ways, their hair tells a story of who their people were and are.
Another reason why American Indian men and boys grow their hair long is because of
what their hair represents. For example, some believe that the hair in a braid represents the
mind, body, and soul. For many Christian American Indians it displays the Holy Trinity.
Some grow their hair long for a source of strength. Growing out hair comes with a
sense of confidence. It is so unusual in this society to be a male and have long hair that it
takes quite a bit of confidence to rock it. Less and less American Indian males have long hair
for a variety of reasons. One reason is nervousness. This nervousness roots back to societal
pressures of what it means to be a man. These past few generations, American Indian males
have been told that their hair is feminine. I used to experience this all the time as I was
growing up. Kids in school called me a girl. Adults called me a girl. Everyone thought I was
a girl. I was instructed to correct them every time by telling them that I’m an Indian boy.
Whenever a man would enter the bathroom and see me, they would walk back out the door
and check the sign again to make sure that they didn’t step into the lady’s room. At the time it
took a lot of confidence to have long hair. It took me not caring what people thought to
continue to have it. For the most part, I didn’t take it personally. Instead, I used these
situations as a time to educate people on why I had long hair. Most people who called me a
girl weren’t being rude, they were just ignorant. When I was in middle school, I wanted to fit
in with the rest of the kids. There was a point in time when I considered cutting my hair.
Growing up in a predominantly non-Indigenous community, the norm was short, stylish,
gelled hair for boys. It can be difficult for youth to want to maintain that cultural connection,
especially during middle school years. The few Indigenous boys my age ended up cutting
their hair during this time.

The last reason I am going to talk about is that long hair serves as a connection to a
time when having long hair was commonplace. It is a physical reminder of who you are as an
American Indian. Every morning I wake up and brush my hair, I think of those whose
struggles have allowed me to be here today.

Long hair is sacred. It is a tangible reminder of our ancestors. It is a source of strength
in tough times. It is a continuation of our culture. Did I mention that it looks awesome? In my
eyes, that is the importance of long hair for American Indian men and boys.