Indigenous mother unhappy with 2nd school meeting after son’s braid cut

A Calgary mother isn’t satisfied following a second meeting with her son’s school after his braid was cut by another student last week, but she remains hopeful that the incident can be a catalyst for change.

“It was frustrating,” Shantel Tallow, a member of the Kainai First Nation in southern Alberta, told CBC News on Monday.

“Last week I wasn’t hearing back from the school at all. We didn’t want him to be scared to go to school. We knew he had been getting teased about his hair, but we didn’t know it would go to this extent — to have his braid cut off.”

Tallow said her son, Rafe Vadnais, was leaving school last Monday when another student approached him from behind and cut off a part of Rafe’s braid.

Rafe said it happened quickly.

“I felt something on the back of my head. Then I saw an elastic and hair on the floor. It made me feel really mad,” the 11-year-old said.

Rafe began growing his hair about a year ago when his mom began losing her hair due to a medical condition. (Monty Kruger/CBC)

Tallow said she doesn’t think the school, which she isn’t naming, gave the incident the weight it deserved.

“The school hasn’t spoken out to the students about what happened, what is going on at their school,” Tallow said.

“There were no answers to our questions.”

The school board, however, has really stepped up, she said.

“I had heard from the Calgary Board of Education Aboriginal team and right away they were in there to help Rafe out with these last few weeks of school.”

‘We hold them accountable’

A school board spokesperson said she couldn’t comment on specific cases but that people are held accountable.

“Certainly if there is an incident where someone’s made a mistake, as a teaching or learning institution, we hold them accountable and we follow a policy of progressive discipline,” Jeannie Everett, acting deputy chief superintendent with the Calgary Board of Education, told The Canadian Press.

Depending on the situation, she said liaisons with an Indigenous education team can be brought in to work with individual students or with whole classes, grades or schools.

Shantel Tallow says she hopes the incident can be a learning experience. (Monty Kruger/CBC)

Tallow, meanwhile, said her son’s braid is important on many levels.

“Last May I started battling a health issue which was making me lose my hair. While he was visiting me in the hospital, he said he was going to start growing his hair for me.”

Then, a week ago Saturday, the family was at a cultural celebration.

“He was called a warrior,” Tallow said with pride.

“From that day, he decided to start wearing braids because an elder had told him about the significance of it.”

‘To see that look on his face…’

The next evening, the night before Rafe intended to wear his braid to school for the first time, the family talked.

“We talked about him getting teased at school. If anyone says anything mean, what are we going to do about it? But we didn’t talk about him getting his braid cut off. Half of his braid is gone right now.”

She knew someone was wrong when she picked her son up from school that Monday.

“To see that look on his face when he came out, we just knew something was wrong. It was that look on his face that gave it away.”

But the family is looking ahead now.

“We are growing from it, like his hair will grow back. Stronger,” Tallow said.

“He is teaching me as well, to be resilient. We can chase after this one family, but let’s make more of this to bring us all together. It is not just one culture, it is all cultures. I am hoping to get the positive from this. It’s a learning experience as well.”

Shantel Tallow brushes the hair of her son, Rafe Vadnais, who had his braid partially cut at his school last week. ‘We are growing from it, like his hair will grow back. Stronger,’ says Tallow. (Monty Kruger/CBC)

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