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'It brings identity': Boys with Braids teaches Saskatoon high school students to love their hair, and themselves


A unique program at a Saskatoon high school is teaching students about Indigenous culture and challenging the stigma against long hair for men and boys.

Boys with Braids teaches students at Bedford Road Collegiate about the cultural importance of braids to Indigenous people.

CTV camera operator Dan Shingoose, who is Saulteaux and Cree, was recently asked to speak to the land-based learning class at Bedford about his life, and about how wearing braids shapes his life as a First Nation man.

“If you’re going to grow your hair, grow your hair long — look after it,” Shingoose told the group.

He’s more used to being behind the camera, but he shared the story of his career in the film and media industry and told students about his journey to grow his hair and proudly wear braids.

“All my friends have long hair. They make me feel good when they have long hair, and they braid their hair everyday,” he said.

The Grades 9 to 12 students heard from Shingoose that he had braids as a small boy but was ridiculed when he started school, so he told his kokum — his grandmother, who he called ko-ko — and they decided to cut the braids. He was six years old.

It was when he was in a residential school at 16 years old that he decided to grow his hair again.

A visit to his ko-ko set the stage for his life with long hair. Shingoose remembers the woman who raised him as a straightforward person who didn’t mince words.

“My ko-ko told me if you don’t know how to take care of your hair, why keep your hair? And I was like, ‘I like long hair,’” he recalls.

“It brings identity and helps so much, and it’s taken me a long time to learn how these braids make a life, when you want to live this life,” he says.

Taking care of his braids includes saving any hair that he cuts off and then burning it, which is another lesson learned from his grandmother. According to Shingoose, this was to ensure that no animals or insects can take the hair or to guard against other people taking the hair and using it for the wrong reasons.

Now, he proudly wears his braids.

Shalen Fox started the Boys with Braids program at Bedford Road Collegiate. (Carla Shynkaruk / CTV News)

The Boys with Braids program came out of the land-based class at Bedford, starting a few months ago with only two students, now they have 14 students, two staff and an elder who attend regularly.

“Boys with braids is the best thing for young men who want to grow their hair, that want to keep their hair,” Shingoose says.

Shingoose told the group that it’s not uncommon for him to get approached by Indigenous people while working who ask him about his braids or are even surprised that he is a camera operator.

Shalen Fox started the Boys with Braids program at the school, where he acts as the Indigenous student advocate.

“Having Dan come in and share stories was good because the way I like to work is to plant seeds in student’s mind, and we won’t always see the growth happen overnight, but we’ll see it over years,” Fox said.

Tristen Cote is in Grade 10 and since joining the group in January, he’s learned valuable insight into growing long hair and wearing braids.

“It’s a part of my identity,” Cote told CTV News.

In the three months since starting, his hair has reached just below his shoulders.

“I leave it loose and some days I put it in a braid,” he says.

Sometimes people ask him questions about his hair, some of them are children.

“Don’t be scared about having long hair,” he tells them.

Tristen Cote has been growing out his hair since first attending the Boys with Braids program. (Carla Shynkaruk / CTV News)

Taking pride in braids, and by extension themselves, is the purpose of the unique program that teaches the connection to culture through wearing braids.

“We see with our young men growing their hair now, asking about it, understanding the history and culture,” Fox said.

“Look after yourself, look after your hair, everything else follows,” Shingoose said.

While he was the presenter in this class, Shingoose was learning, too, and taking it all in.

“I like to hear them laugh. I liked when the young girl asked if I danced. I liked when the young man brought me an offering of tobacco to talk. That was the most important part for me.”

And yes, he has started dancing and is even in the process of making traditional regalia to wear. He told the students about it and showed them photos of the elaborate project. Top Stories

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