I know when people looked at this story they wondered what all the fuss was about.
The story concerned a teacher’s aide in Thunder Bay, Ontario, who last month cut the hair of a First Nations student. After cutting the bangs, the aide was suspended. The region’s assistant Crown attorney said the aide will not face charges though.
“It was determined that this act was not criminal, per se,” David MacKenzie said Friday, adding the aide was no reasonable prospect of conviction and that it was not in the public interest to proceed in court.
Julian Falconer, the family’s lawyer, said this is indicative that First Nations are not considered the public.
MacKenzie said the incident occurred on April 16 when the teacher’s aide, who thought the seven-year-old student was having trouble reading because his bangs were in his eyes, “apparently removed him from the classroom and trimmed the bangs sufficient so he could see what he was reading… there was no suggestion of any racial implications. There was nothing sinister about it.”
Falconer shot back saying, “When a child is in any way physically approached by an adult, without consent, the suggestion of a failure to fight off the adult as an explanation for not prosecuting is absurd. The law is very clear in this area. The removal of hair, without consent, is an assault.”
Falconer added, “If a First Nations teacher had taken the same actions with a non-Native child, there would have been a swift and strong response. The Crown attorney wouldn’t be confused about the definition of consent and those non-Native children would have been deemed worthy of protection.”
Falconer says the family feels betrayed by both the police and the Crown attorney.
The school board would not say how long the suspension would last.
Falconer said the parents previously had problems with the same teacher’s aide. The aide had ridiculed their older son, who also keeps his hair long. They explained to the aide that the boys wear their hair long in order to participate in ceremonial First Nations’ dancing.
There is more than simple disrespect in this story. There is rather an insensitivity to both the culture and history of First Nations peoples both by the aide and the authorities.
Many First Nations peoples remember that when students were taken to residential school their hair was also forcibly cut. This both served to dehumanize and show the students who were the bosses. It was as much of the attempted assimilation process as the showing of westerns and then asking who were the good guys, the cowboys or the Indians.
Thus a simple act of cutting a boy’s hair becomes something more given that the teacher’s aide was informed of why the boys had long hair and it pertained to their cultural background. It was not a helpful act designed to assist in learning. Giving the kid some hair gel would have been sufficient.
It was an assault on a youth with no way to protect himself and it was based in racism. This act should have been treated as such. At the very least, one can hope that the school board will give their staff cultural sensitivity training to ensure this never happens again. At the best, the acting Crown attorney should reverse his decision and prosecute the aide.
No more of our children should be forced to undergo the trials and lessons of residential schools in this day and age.