November is American Indian Heritage Month. “In 1990 President George H. W. Bush approved a joint resolution designating November 1990 National American Indian Heritage Month. Similar proclamations have been issued each year since 1994.  

I was taken aback when I first saw a little Caucasian boy maybe three years of age with a Mohawk haircut. I wondered if the child’s family knew anything about the Mohawks, a Native American tribe, or if the family had just had the child get an “in” haircut.

Of course, by now, I’ve seen males of various ages and ethnic/racial groups with Mohawk haircuts, and I still wonder about their knowledge of this haircut’s history.

For those not familiar with this cut, the head is “shaved bare except for a strip of hair down the middle of the scalp from the forehead to the nape of the neck.” The length of the hair on the sides as well as in the middle varies according to individual taste.

Some choose to have a bit of hair on the sides rather than complete baldness, and some choose to have the middle strip very long or just a bit longer than the sides.

While visiting relatives this past spring, I accompanied my niece and her little grade-school nephews (African-American) when they got Mohawks. They only knew that it was the latest style other boys were wearing at school.

One of my nephews told me that he knew his grandmother wouldn’t like it. I didn’t take advantage of this opportunity to say anything about the origin of the haircut. It’s the same muteness I experience when I encounter Caucasians with dreadlocks.

However, in recognition of American Indian Heritage Month, I feel obligated to acknowledge and say something about the Mohawk tribe.

The Mohawks (also known as Kanienkeh, Kanienkehaka, Kanien’Kahake or Kahnawake) are members of the North American Indian confederacy known as the Iroquois Five Nations and are originally from the Mohawk Valley in upstate New York. Their original territory ranged to present-day southern Quebec and eastern Ontario. Their current settlements include areas around Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River in Canada.

The Mohawks have a long history of war and defense against invasions. They fought against the United States during the American Revolution as well as in the War of 1812, but one must remember that the Mohawks, as well as other indigenous groups (“Indians”), were the targets of attacks and removals (displacements) to reservations (“resettlements”).

Their children (their property) were often separated by force from their families and placed in English boarding schools. Disputes about legislative authorization to allow gambling on certain reservations continue even today.

A large Mohawk Indian community in New York City came about from a large influx of Mohawks (and others of Iroquois origin) as skyscraper construction workers from the 1930s to the 1970s. Reportedly, Mohawks did not display a fear of heights or dangerous conditions. However, they received lower wages for their work (risks) and limited labor union membership. (So what’s new?)

This same reference states that the “Mohawks saw their hair as a connection to the Creator, and therefore grew it long. The Mohawk style in which the head was shaved was only used by warriors going off to war.”   Isn’t it interesting that this warrior haircut is now in vogue among people lacking any American Indian heritage?

Peggy Tarr

Peggy Tarr has been a columnist for the Evanston RoundTable since its founding in 1998. Born in Bruce Springsteen's hometown of Freehold, New Jersey, she graduated from Rutgers University with a degree...