An 8-year-old Native American boy who had grown out his hair to honor his ancestry was made to get a haircut after being threatened with suspension from school, the American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas said.
In a letter sent on Friday, the A.C.L.U called on the Girard Unified School District in southeastern Kansas to rescind the policy that requires boys to wear their hair short and to allow the student to wear his hair long, based on his cultural beliefs. Refusing to accommodate the student’s religious and cultural beliefs violates state and federal law, the A.C.L.U said.
The student is just the latest to have faced punishment at school over clothing or a hairstyle that reflected their cultural heritage. Earlier this year, a Black high school student in Texas with locs, which are long ropelike strands of hair, was suspended over the length of his hair. In Colorado, a high school student was barred from wearing a sash at her graduation that honored her Mexican American heritage.
The ACLU said the boy’s mother went to the school in September and explained they are members listed on the tribal roll of the federally-recognized Wyandotte Nation based in Oklahoma, near the Kansas state line. The boy was inspired to grow his hair long after seeing other Wyandotte men wear their hair long at the tribe’s annual “Gathering of the Little Turtles.”
Traditionally, Wyandotte men only cut their hair when they are mourning the loss of a loved one, the ACLU said. The boy was honoring his Native American ancestry and spiritual identity by doing the same.
“The present-day harms of school policies that restrict Native American boys from wearing long hair must be understood in the historical context of multifaceted efforts to separate Native American children from their families and tribes and to deny them their rights of cultural and religious expression,” the ACLU’s letter to the school district reads. “Haderlein’s policy impacts Native American students disproportionately and perpetuates a legacy of cultural, psychological, and spiritual trauma and discrimination.”
✱ The boys mother decided to cut his hair so he could attend school.
✱ Superintendent Todd Ferguson said that the school board is planning on reviewing the policy.
The Wyandotte Nation is a federally recognized Native American tribe headquartered in northeastern Oklahoma. They are descendants of the Wendat Confederacy and Native Americans with territory near Georgian Bay and Lake Huron. Under pressure from Haudenosaunee and other tribes, then from European settlers and the United States government, the tribe gradually moved south and west to Michigan, Ohio, Kansas, and finally Oklahoma in the United States.