- By Levi Rickert
Some 20 members of the American Indian Movement (AIM) from the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota journeyed to Aurora, Colorado to demand answers from a Colorado health system about why a Lakota elder’s waist-length hair was cut without his permission while he was under the care of the healthcare facility.
The AIM members made local news when they protested on the lawn of the University of Colorado Health (UCHealth) facility last Thursday waving the AIM flag.
They were there to support 65-year-old Arthur Janis (Oglala Sioux Tribe), who was airlifted from Rapid City, South Dakota this past August to receive care at the UCHealth hospital for complications from blood clots that caused him to have severe abdominal pains.
Janis, who is a traditional Lakota man, wore his hair long for cultural reasons.
In early November, his sister, while participating in a video conference call, to get an update on her brother’s health condition, she noticed his hair had been cut. Upon seeing Arthur’s hair was cut, she became upset and made inquiries about Arther’s hair.
In Lakota culture, long hair is sacred and not to be cut unless someone is mourning due to the loss a loved one.
The hospital staff would not give her a straight answer, so she and other family sought the involvment of AIM.
Ruddy Reddog, Oyuhpe Tokala Society and AIM, who lives in Manderson, South Dakota, has taken the lead on finding answers about Janis' hair being cut short.
In an interview with Native News Online on Sunday, Reddog said the UCHealth Hospital has confirmed Janis’ hair was cut while he was under its care. However, Reddog says the hospital is not certain when or why it was cut. Since Janis entered the hospital’s system for care, he was transferred to a nursing home in Denver that the hospital maintains a partnership with.
UC Health is reviewing their video history. Reddog said hospital officials said the videos will not be released without a court order. So, Reddog said AIM will have some fundraisers in order to raise money to pay for legal counsel.
Reddog calls what happened to Janis was an assault and robbery.
“They have yet to identify specifically the day and time this theft took place and by who did the assault,” Reddog said.”The family and friends of Arthur are concerned about this theft because we also know how highly Native American people's hair could be of value to big city venues. So we wonder if it was stolen for the black market used for wigs and extensions found popular in inner city fashions?”
The Janis’ family and AIM wants to know why Arthur’s hair was cut and where the hair is now.
“If it was just a mistake by caregivers, what did they do with his hair? Did they just throw it away? Or sell it to a program like "locks of love" that creates wigs for cancer patients? We just don't have any answers to our worries and concerns,” Reddog said.
Reddog said there may be other reasons for the theft of Janis’ hair.
“Could he have been robbed for someone else's religious impressions such as satanic ritual or new age ceremony play? Or could this be a racist act and someone just believed a man should not have long hair. Or like the times of Indian boarding schools that it was heathen to wear our hair long?”
On Friday, UC Health released this a statement to the press:
“UCHealth and its nurses, physicians and staff members have deep respect for our patients and their individual beliefs and customs. We agree that a patient should be fully informed and should consent to any medical care, and that their culture must be honored. We are committed to working with family members to investigate any concerns and to help determine if an incident happened at one of our care locations.”
Reddog said he filed criminal complaints with the Aurora Police Department and the UC Health Police Department on Friday. On Monday, AIM plans to file a complaint with the Colorado Civil Rights Division
“We hope that this will never happen again to our Native men who proudly grow their hair long,” Roddog said.
Referring to November being Native American Heritage Month, Reddog said what happened to Janis, in a twist on words, “this truly becomes Native American Injustice Month.”
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