Why Indians wear long hair
long hair

- Song - sound -

On the question of "Why Indians wear long hair and can it be a manifestation of religious belief?"

It is difficult, if not impossible, to determine what Indian religion is. It might be easier to determine what it is not from a legal point of view.

Legal religions are chartered by federal, and state governments. They are, therefore, legally recognized. This legal recognition authorizes them to build churches, schools, hospitals or other institutions, which are then exempt from taxation.

Furthermore, these religious legal organizations ordain and then license certain people to carry out certain functions of their organization. These said licensed people are recognized by the rest of the legal world system, such as the courts, prisons, armies, etc.. Some of these people can be recognized at a glance by their attire, such as the reversed collars of priests and the attire of nuns of the Catholic faith, but not all. Therefore, it must be assumed that they have credentials which identify them as official representatives of their respective faiths.

Legal religions have generally defined their beliefs in terms of conventional metaphysics. They may have a credo, which usually comes from the teachings of an historical person such as Jesus Christ, Buddha, Zoraster, ect.. In other words they have a written structured system of worship as set forth by an historical person, and all who join their legal assembly are expected to follow or face exclusion or excommunication.

Furthermore, legal religions have a set place to worship such as a church or synagogue or a mosque.

Indian religion is different from legal religions in many ways. In the legal world system the Indians do not have a religion at all.


  • They are not legally chartered by the legal world system.
  • They have no legal ordained persons with proper identification recognizable by the legal world system.
  • They have no written metaphysics, or articles of faith or written doctrines or beliefs.
  • They have no physical domain in the legal world system such as a church, which would be recognizable by the legal world system because of tax exemptions.

Therefore, it might be a logical assumption that the Indians have no religion at all. In fact, this is the position that many prison administrators, military systems, courts and school systems have taken and are taking today. They have decided that because Indian religions do not exist in conventionally defined legal terms that it does not exist at all.

Nevertheless, regardless of decisions to the contrary, Indians do have a religion, (though not a legal one) that existed prior to Columbus, and continues to exist to this day. These Indian religions are natural religions.

The problems that the legal world system imposes upon the natural Indian religions are many and varied. And they have been a matter of grave concern and discussion by Indians who still adhere to their. traditional way of worship and belief. The legal world system is engaged in a one-sided covert war with the Indian religion. Evidence of this one-sided war is manifold. The persecution and prosecution by the many legal institutions, such as schools, courts, against Indians who wear long hair is only one example that has existed in full force since 1776. It is ironic that the descendants of those first Pilgrims, who came here supposedly seeking religious freedom, should continue to deny that freedom to the original inhabitants of this land. Nevertheless, that is the subject matter of this case and many thousands more like it, whether that fact is admitted or not.

Another injustice that must be considered is the multitudes of so-called Indian experts, for example, anthropologists, who want to define and properly categorize Indian religions into a neat little package--ready for market to the highest bidder. The problem here is readily apparent, they have never shared the experience that they wish to define and describe to others. They may have witnessed a Sundance or watched a sweat-lodge ceremony or a ritual of some kind. They may have talked at great length to a few Indians. Still, they were always and ever, merely observers, watching or listening, but never participants. And oftentimes because of a mere conflict of interest they may have been hostile to the Indians being observed--hence they use derogatory terminology to describe and define. (Consider a description of Christianity by a Communist.) Of course, there have been sincere written attempts to relate the Indian religions beliefs and rituals but they have failed because the English language lacks the proper nomenclature. (And, furthermore, it is extremely doubtful that the most well intentioned person could accurately portray a total concept of Indian religious belief and knowledge because the believer is in a individual relationship with the Great Spirit.) Even the term "Indian19 is a misnomer. If we were to determine what Indian religions are in an exact sense, we would have to go to India. Simply for the sake of clarity, I have used the term for it is not my intention to further the state of confusion that now exists.

Indian religion is an integral part of an Indians' life, it is inseparable from his spiritual health. Not only is the outer appearance important, such as the wearing of long hair, but equally important is every thought, every word, every deed. Each one as an individual must go through the inner transformation by realizing his relationship with the whole of creation. There is no textbooks, no guidebooks, to teach one how to reach the state of being where one determines that they will wear long hair--that must be discovered for each person himself.

As stated at the beginning of this letter, it is difficult, if not impossible, to determine what Indian religions are, though it may have been determined in part what it is not, in the legal world system. The question, "Why do Indians wear long hair?11 is equally difficult to answer. So let us approach that question from a different way and ask, "Why so some nuns shave off their hair?" If any one was so imprudent to ask one, perhaps that nun might state that that knowledge is not for those outside their order to know but you may join our order and find out. Here we find another difference about Indian religion, for one cannot join it in the same way that one can join a legal world religion, for one is born into it. And one cannot be excluded from membership for the same reason. One can deny their membership in an Indian tribe or nation but that would be a psychological alienation and not a physical one. And there can be the forced psychological alienation of an Indian from his natural life style such has been the practice of this nation to this day, which uses the police power of the governments to prohibit Indians from the free exercises of their natural religions.

Today many young Indian youths are seeking their true identity—letting their hair grow long is one of the outer manifestations of that inner seeking. For me, or any other person, to try and tell this court what an Indian wants or needs to grow their hair long would be to commit an injustice to the party in question. I would become a party, though unwilling, to his persecution. I, too, am a long hair. I would consider it a gross violation of my privacy for anyone to question my natural right to wear my hair long. Although the legal world system of the United States might have the legal right to cut an Indians hair. I say this because it has been, and is today, the practice of the federal government especially in the boarding school system and prisons where Indians are incarcerated.

Still within the legal world system that practice would be in violation of the human rights doctrine as defined by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of the United Nations. But as the United States is not a signature to that universal legal document, the courts are not legally required to respect and protect an Indian's natural human rights. And the United States courts have extended their prosecution jurisdiction over the Indians natural religious rights for the purpose of depriving and denying Indians the right of freedom of religious expression.

At least two of these natural Indian religions associations have succumbed to the pressure and persecution of the United States legal system and have obtained a charter and therefore receive the protection jurisdiction and benefit jurisdiction of said legal system. They are the Native American Church and the Shaker Church. I will not go into the problems that they have, it is enough to say they are known. And we wish to avoid falling into the same state. It has been generally agreed by many of the followers of the natural traditional Indian way that they do not want to define their knowledge and beliefs into metaphysical doctrines or to obtain a legal charter in order to receive the so-called benefits and protection of the legal world.

As believers in this natural religion we can and do assemble in association with each other but no such group or person has anything to say and no control over the relationship between any individual and the Great Spirit, for that individual is in direct relationship with the Great Spirit. The Creator of this universe is the Supreme Source and Authority because It is the Creator of all Creation. And no person, no church, no nation, and no court can put himself in the place of the Creator who we call the Great Spirit, without being in violation of the Creators laws, a blasphemer! Furthermore any terminology used should be restricted as much as possible to have a minimum of terms in order not to be defined to the last detail and therefore limited by man-made laws.

Therefore, the important question in this case is not "Why an Indian wears long hair?" but is more fundamental, "Whether there is to be freedom of religious expression in this land for the original inhabitants?", regardless, of whether or not that religion is legally or rather constitutionally, chartered. The expression of religious experience is not always clothed in English words and for the Long -Haired Traditional People it will never be.

Janet McCloud
Columbus Day 1993