Aiden Wolf: Having Long Hair

Aiden Wolf dancing
Photo taken by Robert McLean

By Aiden M. Wolf 

 I began to grow my hair out in the fall of 2016. I did not do this willingly, but it felt like my mother would hate me if I did not. My father showed his support and also grew his hair out. It was a nice gesture, but he wasn’t at school or stuck in my head. There were no cultural aspects I reflected on when I started. When it grew out it annoyed me a lot and made me feel more uncomfortable than I already felt.  

My circle of friends never remarked on my hair as it was growing out, but it was a barrier and made me feel different. For the most part, peers have been supportive and respectful of my long hair. For the first few years, the only way I could forget about my hair was playing sports, basketball and football. Then, even those became excuses to cut my hair. My mother told me about my Scottish and Irish heritage from my maternal grandfather, Papa’s side of the family who were also descendants of Vikings. We looked at a bunch of pictures of Vikings and Scottish ancestors and slowly my hair evolved, still long for her, but better met the needs of my sports and me. 

Long hair has been easier than growing long hair. The turning point I had was my freshman year, 2018. I decided to put my hair in braids instead of a single braid for basketball practice. We were all walking out from practice and an upperclassman teammate said to me in the hallway, “Aiden, I like your pigtails.” I ignored him, because my initial response would have been anger. Weird thing was, after he said it, it made me want to keep my long hair.

Aiden Wolf basketball

Aiden playing basketball

I know my hair sets me a part from others; it’s something I just feel. I learned that my great-great grandfather; Gramps; Ike Patrick; was sent to the St. Andrew’s Boarding School with his little cousin. The first thing the church did was cut their hair and told them to not speak their language. Within days of being there, he and his little cousin were caught by the nuns speaking Palouse. They put Gramps in a wooden chair fitted for such behavior, and took his little cousin in their laps and both had their mouths washed out with soap. Soon, he saw his little cousin’s hair, it stopped jerking; he stopped fighting the nuns because he died. I don’t know if he ever had long hair again, Gramps, but I think of him once in a while when I braid my hair. They took it from him; I’m bringing it back.  

Aiden Wolf holding photo of grandfather

I go to school in Athena. There are a lot of good people in Athena. The combination of that setting in our schools, having long hair, knowing where I come from and who ALL of my ancestors are has helped me grow. I spent so much time in my head; worrying; blaming my mother, finally one day, I don’t know when, I just liked that extra time by myself braiding my hair. I have a lot to be grateful for, and my long hair is just one of them.  

I don’t know if it is confidence, because I am still uncomfortable and my mother is still my mother, but I am able to talk to people now. When I see someone, I try to figure out the kind of person they are by their attitude, like how they pay attention in class; how they carry themselves, like if they’re shy or out-going. Sometimes they are shy, but they walk like they’re outgoing, I have to talk to them first before I know this. So, my hair has given me courage and helped me become comfortable with myself so I can be comfortable with others. Now, I want to grow my hair out on the sides, again. It’s nice to have my father’s ongoing support; in fact he is considering pieces of my style.   

To anyone who is considering growing their hair out try not to be embarrassed, it will only make you lose sight of the true reason you are growing it out. Just learn as fast as you can to accept it; accept your heritage; the annoying growth phases. It can get you caught up in your looks in a negative way, like take you out of the game or listening in class; just focus on what’s in your mind, body and heart because good will rule out.  Thank you for this opportunity to share my story. 

Aiden Wolf is a junior at Weston McEwen High School and recently won the A&D Prevention Essay Contest.  “I play sports, participate in my culture, and the Pendleton Round-up Rodeo and Happy Canyon Night Show. I enjoy watching pro wrestling and hope to be one someday, which is why I include weightlifting in my everyday life. My role models include Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson and John Cena, they inspire me to push myself  to be the best at whatever I strive to do.” 

We Want to Hear From You!

Call for Submissions 

My American Dream: Borderlands and Belonging


We are proud to present Aiden’s essay as part of the Rural Youth Catalyst Project partnership with PBS American Portrait: A National Storytelling Project. 

Utilizing themes from the American Portrait Project, we are asking rural young people from across the country to respond to the prompt “My American Dream: Borderlands and Belonging.”  

PBS American Portrait is an ongoing, evolving initiative that is asking for people all across the country to contribute their experiences and perspectives to create a documentary series that captures the diversity and realities of our country.  

The Rural Youth Catalyst Project as an independent working group aligned with the Rural Assembly. Working nationally, the Rural Youth Catalyst Project aims to strengthen and create opportunities that allow rural and Native youth to realize their hopes and dreams while remaining in or returning to their communities. 

How does it work? 

Every few weeks, we will share a new prompt from American Portrait. Each of these prompts is a question for you to react to, share your opinions, ideas, and experiences that reflect your life and/or what you see around you in your community. We will help give you a little bit of shape to the prompt and ask you to send us what you create. We will share your contribution on the Rural Assembly blog and our social media as well as submit it to American Portrait. Worried that you might need a little help with editing what you send us? Don’t be worried, we will help you with any edits if needed. This is an opportunity for you to contribute to a timely, relevant, national conversation that is otherwise missing the perspectives of rural and Native young people.

The Prompt:

 My American Dream: Borderlands and Belonging

Stories about the meaning and pursuit of the American dream and the obstacles people face as they strive to make their dreams come true.  

Growing up in Mexico and the Rio Grande Valley of South Texas, the poet, scholar, and activist Gloria Anzaldúa writes about living a region she calls the borderlands. She refers to this area as a very literal geography of lands that are not fully Mexico nor fully the United States. The people and their communities are part of both countries and cultures.  However, Anzaldúa is really using this reference to the borderlands to describe and challenge us to think about the invisible borders that exist not just in south Texas but for all of us and in all our communities. The borderlands are physically present across race, ethnicity, culture, gender, gender identity and sexuality, class, or any other identity. Living in the borderlands can bring connectedness when we’re able to shrink those differences in our communities but it can also bring the challenges of feeling like an outsider, facing fear of isolation, discrimination, and hatred as we carry our identities and try to navigate the borderlands of difference.  

What is your perspective on the American Dream? How have your experiences of borderland and/or belonging shaped your own sense of the American dream or for your family, or your community? How do we create borderlands and obstacles to either keep each other from or build belonging to support each other in participating in the American Dream? 

Choose one or more of the following options to share your American Dream: Borderlands and Belonging story with us

1. Write a Poem 

April is National Poetry Month—send us your poem. We will post it on the Rural Assembly/Rural Youth Catalyst Blog and to the PBS American Portrait website. 

Don’t worry if you’ve never written a poem before, we welcome new and seasoned poets. Any style or length. 

2. Read your work at our Rural Assembly Everywhere Youth Poetry Slam Happy Hour. 

Wednesday, April 21st 7-8pm ET.

We will be hosting a virtual happy hour session as part of the Rural Assembly Everywhere and we invite you to read your poem. Join other rural young people from across the country as their share their work or just join to listen and enjoy.  In early April, we will send out a sign up notice (first come, first serve until the slots are filled). Stay tuned for details.

3. Write a Short Essay.

It can be one paragraph or a couple of pages and we will share it on our blog and on the PBS American Portrait website. We will feature your essay in the lead up to, during, and after the Rural Assembly Everywhere event.

4. Create and Submit a Short Video (1-11/2 minutes max) to be shown during the Rural Assembly Everywhere Event. 

We will also share it on our blog and on the PBS American Portrait website.

Tell us your own story or interview another young person, record their answer and send it to us.

Here are a few more guidelines for shooting your video.

If you shoot video: 

  • Record yourself looking into the camera as you talk. 
  • If you’re shooting on a phone, have it in the horizontal position.
  • Understand where the light is coming from.  If there is sun, don’t have it directly behind what you’re shooting.
  • Make sure it’s quiet enough to hear you talking when recording.

 Begin your video with, “My name is ______, I’m from _____________”

Email your submissions to us at the Rural Youth Catalyst Project or for additional information or to collaborate please contact: Kim Phinney (kimberly.phinney@gmail.com) and Kathy Moxon (kathleen.moxon@gmail.com)

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