National heritage months provide education and insight into peoples and cultures that we might not otherwise be exposed to. You can Google search anything nowadays, so instead, I thought I would write a personal piece about cultural significance for me, as November begins National Native American Heritage Month.
Hair is an important cultural identity for many Native Americans and Indigenous peoples. Our hair is considered sacred and significant to who we are and how we identify. It represents pride and promotes self-esteem and self-respect. Our hair is not only self-expression but is also part of our ceremonies. Many of us believe that our hair is the closest thing to Father Skye and its length is what grounds us to Mother Earth. Many of us will cut our hair during the loss or death of an immediate family member. This is symbolic and represents the time we spent with our loved one and cutting off the hair signifies the ending of that relationship and connection. It also represents new beginnings.
At one of our staff trainings, I ask staff to engage in a game of assumptions and ask them to share their assumptions about it. Sometimes it takes staff a while to get there and others will immediately jump in and start to discuss race, ethnicity and culture. And usually, there are a handful of staff who will correctly identify me as Native American. When I ask what makes them assume this or how they know, they will usually reply, “your hair.”
At a recent session, I spoke briefly about how hair is very important to Native culture. After sharing this, a staff member shared, “it’s the same for us, as a black woman.” This simple sharing led me to have a moment where I said, how many of our cultures have similar beliefs? How many of us share traditions or values and beliefs with other groups?
I came across a quote today from my favorite poet and writer, Maya Angelou. She said, “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” Whether it is National Native American Heritage Month or any other heritage month, this is a venue and opportunity to share those untold stories of our identities, our culture, our beliefs, and allows us to see the commonalities we have with one another. We are more connected than we might think or believe.