Race and Ethnicity

Native American Student Told To Leave School For Wearing Traditional Mohawk Hairstyle

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A Native American student at the Arrowhead Elementary School, in St. George, Utah has been sent home for having a “distracting” traditional Native American hairstyle.

The 7-year-old was removed from his classroom earlier this week when school officials said that his Native American Mohawk violated school policies.

The second grade student is the child of Seneca and Paiute Native parents. The Mohawk style is very common with the Seneca Nation.

His father tried to explain that to the school on Thursday, but his wife says they were still told by the school that the hair style is against their dress code.

The parents contacted the Seneca National Tribe, in New York, and asked them to explain the cultural significance of the hairstyle to the Washington County school district administrators.

“It is common for Seneca boys to wear a Mohawk because after years of discrimination and oppression, they are proud to share who they are,” William Canella, a Seneca Nation Tribal Councilor wrote. “It’s disappointing that your school does not view diversity in a positive manner, and it is our hope that [the boy] does not suffer any discrimination by the school administration or faculty as a result of his hair cut.”

The boy’s father, Gary Sanden, said he understands the need for a dress code, but does not think people should have to jump through so many hoops to have their cultural practices “approved” by the State.

The parents were even challenged by the school district, which said they must prove the child is Native American.

The parents offered to bring in their tribal membership cards, but the school rejected this offer, saying that the letter directly from the Seneca Nation Council would be required.

“I have two [sons] who go to Arrowhead,” Sanden explained. “My other boy, he’s 10, didn’t want a Mohawk and went with the non-native haircut, kind of high and tight. So the principal says well, you have another son here who doesn’t have a Mohawk, why can’t you cut [the younger student’s] hair that way too?”

Sanden didn’t want to release a photograph of their son, as they are worried about backlash from the school administrators and teachers.

Rex Wilkey, assistant superintendent over primary education, said that the discrimination was because “we try to reflect the values and norms of the community.”

He added that “some things are a little more clear cut, and some things are a little more controversial. You try to manage it the best you can. Kids come in dressed all kinds of ways and it can be an issue for the school.”

 

John Mejia, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Utah, said while schools can have dress codes, “it is well established law that you do not shed all of your constitutional rights at the schoolhouse door.”

(Article by M. David; image by #Op309 Media via blended stock images of a Seneca man with a mohawk and a Native American youth with a similar hairstyle)

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