A Nebraska school says it was a lice check. Lakota people sense centuries of repressions.

This story was first reported and shared with USA TODAY by Flatwater Free Press, Nebraska's first independent, not-for-profit newsroom focused on investigations and special reports.
It is early summer and a Lakota woman stares into the trees, past the leaves and their shadows, her dark eyes fogged up.
Norma LeRoy tries to understand why a school secretary cut her two girls' hair in the spring of 2020 without her consent. The secretary was looking for lice, LeRoy was told - lice, the mother said she had never found them.
LeRoy feels that few in this remote area of ​​Cherry County, Nebraska, understand what they took. Therefore, the 36-year-old Rosebud Sioux has to turn away from her children to the trees to protect them from her tears.
Hair is sacred to their people. Cutting it outside of the Lakota tradition has ramifications.
"Happiness, the good, the wellbeing of life, it takes all of that away," LeRoy said. “And that's why we, as Indians, consider our hair strong. Because it comes from the spirit world and was given to us. "
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In Kilgore, a population of 79 and less than four miles from the Rosebud Indian Reservation in South Dakota, a dark story is raised about haircutting. Stories of boarding schools where they shaved the pitch black hair of the Native Americans to make them look more white. Like these boarding school kids, LeRoy and her wife Alice Johnson say their girls - aged 12 and 7 - have lost something. And immediately before and after the haircut, three of her grandmothers died.
It invited bad luck, said LeRoy.
"You don't get lice when you have clean hair," LeRoy said, the secretary told her.
Other residents say the secretary's good heart should not be ignored.
Norma LeRoy (left) and Alice Johnson hold their daughters, ages 7 and 12, uphold cultural beliefs and civil rights at Valentine City Park on May 21.
George Johnson, a retired rancher in Cody, 15 miles from Kilgore, was on the school board decades ago when it hired the secretary.
Without a headmaster, the secretary ran the school, Johnson said, and looked after his children and many others. She stood up for children whose families could not afford backpacks, coats or boots. Occasionally the school cut hair to stop the lice from spreading, Johnson said.
Although he doesn't know what happened in that case, Johnson said whatever happened there was a reason.
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"[She] didn't do this out of hostility, punishment, or anything else," Johnson said. “She did it to help the children and to protect the school. She's not that kind of person, I guarantee you that. "
On May 17, the two mothers filed a lawsuit against the Cody-Kilgore Unified Schools district in Lincoln federal court. The mothers claim their first right to amend was violated.
Calls, emails, SMS and Facebook messages to the secretary, the headmaster, the former headmaster and all six school board members either went unanswered or the person declined to comment. The school's attorney, Chuck Wilbrand of the Knudsen Law Firm in Lincoln, also declined to comment.
On July 15, the school and its attorney filed a motion to terminate the case. School officials were unaware that haircutting was culturally insensitive, the motion said, and the former headmaster agreed not to cut the children's hair in the future.
That did little to appease LeRoy and Johnson, who said the school had violated their family culture as much as it had long harmed Native American culture.
"I just want people to understand that you can't touch someone else's child," said Johnson. “Every religion has faith. Every culture has beliefs that we have rules to live by. And I want people to know that. "
'Wait, who cut your hair?'
To understand the importance of hair to the Lakota, you need to know the star woman.
A long time ago, it is said, there was a woman in the Big Dipper. Alone, she let her hair grow long enough to reach the earth. When she got here she cut it off.
"She abandoned it because she had to come here to build a life," LeRoy said. “And so she could build this life, she used her hair. That is why we say that there are strict restrictions for women with long hair. Because her spirit lives in her hair. And when you cut that, part of their mind is gone. "
LeRoy grew up with these stories. She learned the Lakota language, ceremonies and traditions from her grandmother on the Rosebud Reservation, where she spent most of her life.
Norma LeRoy (left) and Alice Johnson hold their daughters, ages 7 and 12, uphold cultural beliefs and civil rights at Valentine City Park on May 21.
LeRoy and Johnson met on Facebook in 2015 and married a year later. Each had daughters from previous marriages and one after marriage. They raise their four children according to Lakota traditions.
But they also raise her in a small, mostly white town in Nebraska - which wasn't a problem until March 2, 2020.
"I was like, 'Wait, who cut your hair?'" Johnson said when her 10-year-old daughter told her about the incident.
The girls told their mother that the school secretary did it. When they called the superintendent he said it was a head lice control. The school's student manual does not describe how to conduct lice controls.
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In its dismissal petition, the school district says, although haircutting is not a written guideline, "... the school district sometimes cut off a single strand of hair containing the louse and stuck it on a piece of paper to show the family. "The school district said it had taken steps to correct the situation and agreed on March 13 not to have the children's hair cut again. It returned a strand to the family to burn in accordance with the Lakota beliefs.
After the haircut, the two mothers drove to the rosebud reserve. They visited Waycee His Holy Horse, a spiritual guide, reservation officer, and LeRoy's cousin who performed rituals to protect the souls of the children.
"[I felt] hurt, betrayed, angry and confused," said Lila Kills in Sight, the spiritual guide's mother, who bathed the children with a sponge during the rituals. “We are in a new era and I just thought everyone knew something about the indigenous people and how we do things.
"They pretended they had done nothing wrong."
Lakota writer and activist Zitkála-Šá, pictured in 1898. She was violently shorn as a girl. As an adult, she wrote about the experience: “I cried loudly and kept shaking my head until I felt the cold blades of the scissors on my neck and heard them gnaw at one of my thick braids. Then I lost my courage ... now I was just one of many small animals that were herded by a shepherd. "
"Kill the Indian ... save the man"
As the story circulated on social media, raw emotions surfaced.
"That the seventh, eighth, tenth generation has to go through this again ... I mean, it's just a big eye opener because it's relived," LeRoy said.
On March 3, 1819, the United States signed the Civilization Fund Act. This ushered in an era when national boarding schools, including those in Nebraska, separated local children from their families.
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"... All Indians in the race should be dead. Kill the Indian in him and save the man, "said Capt. Richard H. Pratt who founded the Carlisle Indian Industrial School, famous in 1892.
In 1884 Christian missionaries came to the Yankton reservation in South Dakota and took eight-year-old Zitkála-Šá from their mother.
“I remember being dragged out, although I defended myself by kicking and scratching wildly,” wrote Zitkála-Šá in 1900 about her haircut. “I was carried down against my will and tied to a chair. I cried loudly and kept shaking my head until I felt the cold blades of the scissors on my neck and heard them gnaw at one of my thick braids. Then I lost my courage ... now I was just one of many small animals that were herded by a shepherd. "
"Now times have changed" and "we can talk"
On March 9, Johnson, LeRoy, and a procession of grandmothers drove to the meeting of the Cody-Kilgore Unified Schools Board of Education to tell these stories. The board members listened as the women read a letter and asked for cultural sensitivity training, the mothers said.
When they were done, Adam Naslund, president of the school board, thanked them for sharing the minutes of the meeting.
The mothers and the ACLU said the school has since declined to conduct cultural sensitivity training. In his dismissal petition, the school district says it never discriminated, took swift action to prevent future haircutting, and argued that no further training was required.
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Regarding the fact that he evokes memories of boarding schools, the motion states, "This couldn't be further from the truth."
For the Mothers and Lakota leaders, the haircut incident is a painful reminder of past and present repression. They hope the civil trial can give voice to the generations of Lakota children who have suffered in silence.
"[That little girl] had no one to stand up for her and say, 'Don't cut my child's hair,'" said Johnson. "Now times have changed enough that we can talk about it."
This article originally appeared in the USA TODAY Handout: A School Lice Check in Nebraska, The Agony of a Lakota Family

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