The First Thing They Did Was Cut Our Hair

By: Carlos Guadarrama  

At the front of the “Remembering Our Indian School Days: The Boarding School Experience” exhibit at the Heard Museum in Phoenix Arizona, there is a barber chair with strands of ebony hair scattered around its bottom. The performance of the image sends one clear and striking message: “you must change your identity before you come in.” It is very telling that this chair sits at the entrance of the Native American boarding school exhibit as it was likely the first image that students arriving to these institutions were met with so many years ago. Costume, as defined by folkloristics, includes “any manner of stylizing, marking, or manipulating the appearance of the human body with culturally understood symbols and forms… Costume draws on the expressive power of the individual body to produce social identities within the terms of community aesthetics.” By that definition, one altering their appearance in any way that is recognized by a particular group as symbolic that can be analyzed as tangible evidence of something conscious that sends a message. In this paper, I present three instances in which students from a residential school altered their appearance to send a message. The materials that I have gathered come from a mix of oral histories, archived materials, and a participant-observation method. Throughout my analysis, I will showcase how the students at Intermountain used costume, as defined by folkloristics, to maintain an identity influenced by a plethora of ideas and culture into something that suited their needs.

Identity, Native American, Residential School, USA, Utah, Western Culture
Identity and Belonging
Paper Presentation in a Themed Session

Carlos Guadarrama

PhD Candidate, Folklore, Memorial University of Newfoundland, Canada

I am a PhD Student at Memorial University of Newfoundland. I am currently studying abandoned landscapes and their uses.