In many Indigenous cultures, men grow their hair and wear braids as a way to feel connected to their ancestors. But, unfortunately, this way of showing respect for their culture can sometimes make them the targets of bullying. In fact, for one First Nations mother in Quebec, the start of the school year was full of anticipation, but also some worry. Her 4-year-old son was starting nursery school and she was concerned that he might be laughed at for his long hair with braids. So, she asked photographer Angel Horn if she'd be interested in helping her raise awareness about the significance of these braids.
Horn immediately agreed and put out a call on her Facebook page for any First Nations boys willing to have their portrait taken. The effort was in support of the Back the Braid campaign, which was started in 2019 by two First Nations lacrosse players who were jeered for their braids. In one day, she'd received over 30 requests from boys of all ages growing their hair.
Many of the boys are Kanien'kehá:ka (Mohawk) from Kahnawake, south of Montreal. For Horn, who has shot many awareness campaigns, she was overjoyed to see the pride these boys took in their hair. She hopes that, through the images, people from all cultures can become educated about the choice for many First Nations boys to grow their hair.
“For boys who wear braids or long hair, it’s so important to stop bullying and normalize that Onkwehòn:we boys grow their hair for lots of reasons—for strength, spirituality, strong cultural identity,” she tells My Modern Met. “It connects them to the land, to the earth. It connects them to the past, present, and future that they can wear their hair long for their ancestors who were unable to and were forced to cut their hair.”
Horn has been amazed by the public support for the project. She's hopeful that, through the photographs, people will take the time to understand the strength and resilience of these boys, as well as their pride in their culture.