Photo project celebrates Kahnawake boys with braids

Charlie Mayo has been growing his hair since he was born.

“It’s important because our ancestors had long hair,” said Mayo, a kanien’kehá:ka (mohawk) from Kahnawake, south of Montreal.

The 10-year-old boy is among three dozen in his community photographed for a campaign to celebrate boys with pigtails.

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“It was really fun,” he said of the photoshoot.

“I liked it because it encourages other guys to grow their hair long.”

Ten-year-old Charlie Mayo has been growing his hair out since the day he was born. (Engelshorn Photography)

When Mayo was younger, he said his friends in his community laughed at him and called him a girl because of the length of his hair. Kaianohon Beauchamp is concerned as her four-year-old son Ratewennattókha starts kindergarten this year.

“He has beautiful natural curls, so I never wanted to cut him,” Beauchamp said.

After seeing posters of the Back the Braid campaign on Facebook earlier this month, she approached photographer Angel Horn with the idea of ​​offering free portraits to boys who let their hair out.

Kaianohon Beauchamp’s four-year-old son, Ratewennattókha, was one of the many boys photographed for the campaign. (Engelshorn Photography)

“He was in his element, posing and everything. It was so great. I almost cried,” Beauchamp said when her son was photographed.

Horn has photographed similar campaigns to celebrate people in her community with Down Syndrome, autism, gender diversity, and those on the road to recovery. She said photography can be a powerful medium for raising awareness and encouraging a sense of pride and empowerment for those photographed. This matter is close to her heart because three of her sons have long hair.

Your youngest started growing his hair two years ago.

“My boy looks up to his older brothers who have long hair,” said Horn.

“One of his older brothers grew his hair out because he said he felt connected to the earth.”

Support the Braid campaign

The Back the Braid campaign was created by professional lacrosse players, the Thompson brothers. In 2019, Lyle Thompson was harassed by fans and a game announcer.

He and his brothers started the campaign to help people understand the importance of the braid in Indigenous cultures and to help young Indigenous boys feel more confident wearing braids.

Other organizations have since developed similar campaigns, including the National Indian Education Association in the US, which posted several posters on social media to promote Back the Braid for the back-to-school season.

Behind the scenes of 4-year-old Ratewennattókha Deer’s photoshoot with pigtails. (Submitted by Kaianohon Beauchamp)

For Horn, it’s important that boys with pigtails are celebrated and supported to fight bullying – both inside and outside of Kahnawake.

“All these guys, including my sons, are all so proud of their hair,” Horn said.

“It brings so much awareness…. It gives them a voice.”

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