Photo project celebrates Kahnawake boys with braids
Charlie Mayo has been growing his hair long since the day he was born.
“It’s important because our ancestors had long hair,” said Mayo, who is 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 braids.
“It was really fun,” he said about the photoshoot.
“I liked it because it helps encourage other boys to grow their hair long.”
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. It’s something Kaianohon Beauchamp is worried about, now that her four-year-old son Ratewennattókha is starting nursery this year.
“He has beautiful natural curls so that’s why I never wanted to cut it,” said Beauchamp.
After seeing Back the Braid campaign posters circulating on Facebook earlier this month, she approached photographer Angel Horn with the idea to offer free portraits to boys growing their hair.
“He was in his element posing and everything. It was so awesome. I almost teared up,” Beauchamp said about her son getting his picture taken.
Horn has photographed similar campaigns to celebrate people in her community with Down syndrome, autism, gender diversity, and those on a recovery journey. She said photography can be a powerful medium to raise awareness and foster a sense of pride and empowerment for those being photographed. This cause is something close to her heart, as three of her sons have long hair.
Her 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 grows his hair because he said he feels connected to the earth.”
Back the Braid campaign
The Back the Braid campaign was started by professional lacrosse players the Thompson brothers. In 2019, Lyle Thompson was harassed by fans and an announcer of a game.
He and his brothers started the campaign to help people understand the significance 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 U.S., which released several posters over social media to promote Back the Braid for back-to-school season.
For Horn, it’s important that boys with braids hair are celebrated and supported to combat bullying — both in and outside of Kahnawake.
“All these boys, my sons included, all have so much pride in their hair,” said Horn.
“It brings so much awareness…. It gives them a voice.”