As Native people, we take pride in our hair. It portrays our cultural identity, our values, and our beliefs. In the old days when most of our people wore their traditional hairstyles, there were amazing creations and enhancements. Some were for practicality, others were decorative and others were ceremonial. As I see pictures from long ago, I have to remember that our ancestors were using traditional products of the day and not today’s shampoos, conditioners, mousses, gels, and hairsprays nor curling irons, straightening irons, and blow dryers.
What also amazes me is the volume and color of our ancestors’ hair even among the aged. One lady of our Bitterroot Salish people believed that you should only wash your hair in a flowing stream (usually icy cold year-round) and never in a basin or tub and that would insure long, thick, hair which hers most definitely was. And there are many historic photographs of middle-aged and older Native people who seem to have no gray hair, either!
I’ve come to the theory—and professional hairstylists might agree with me—that part of the reason our ancestors’ hair was so magnificent and stayed that way was that they DIDN’T wash, comb, and fuss with it every day. In addition, the natural products they may have used such as greases and earth based paints actually served to hydrate and nourish it. Keeping the hair braided and wrapped such as with animal furs, strips of cloth or ribbon further protected the hair from dirt and damage.
I was watching an infomercial for the product Wen. It’s a pretty simple pitch: Don’t use shampoo on your hair because it will dry it and that leads to dullness and breakage. By the way, hair that keeps breaking at the root will weaken the follicle until—here it comes—the hair that is produced has no pigment, and in other words, is white or gray.
Over the years I’ve been in awe of how powwow dancers can produce perfect hairstyles that can last through sun, wind, rain, and of course, dancing. It helps that most Native people, especially powwow dancers, have abundant hair. But it takes much skill and practice to correctly fashion it whether for males or females. Look around the next powwow and you’ll see dozens of hands deftly braiding. Some people can do their own, like my daughter, who has enough hair for three people I swear. And some have to rely on others to get the smooth, tight, stay together look that is the crowning glory of the perfect regalia.
Beginning in the 1980s, French braids emerged as a trend for female dancers and I myself wore them because I had a short, layered haircut. Today we are seeing a return to the more traditional styles and more women and men are growing their hair long and keeping it that way.
Whatever style you’re using for powwow dancing, it probably requires hair products of some kind. The list of favorites based on my un-scientific survey is:
- O.B., a 40-something woman with long, thin hair swears by Vaseline. Not one hair gets out of place when you use that, trust me. It’s also good for boys because they usually don’t like girlie products like gel or hairspray.
- N.K., a 30-something woman with medium length, layered hair uses Aussie Instant Freeze hairspray. She claims this will stand up even to the wind in Browning, MT.
- R.F., a 25 year-old man, uses Garnier putty to tame his waist-length, thick hair that is usually in two braids.
- F.P., a 33 year-old woman with thick, fine hair uses Suave and White Rain hairspray.
- P.P., a 63 year-old man uses “hair glue”. Don’t ask me where you buy that!
- C.A., a 25 year-old woman with very thick hair uses Herbal Essence spray gel.
- M.A., a 28 year-old woman with very thick hair uses Herbal Essence Touchably Smooth Anti-Friz Crème and Herbal Essence Max Hold hairspray. This is preceded by blow-drying with a Revlon ionic dryer and a Ginalli tourmaline ceramic straightener which, she says, “makes my hair awesome”.
- My personal favorites for my long, dry hair are Got2b defiant pommade and V05.
Now go practice braiding!