The Day We Made You Cut Your Hair (for I.L.)

Content warning:
This post and song contain references to the Canadian Residential Schools system
and Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls and Two-Spirited.

This week we’re delving into Dark Little Ones, the new album released on February 4 by Canadian singer-songwriter and musician Kieran West. Each day, we’re looking at one of the nine songs in the collection, and I’m including Kieran’s notes about his songs. For more about my son’s music, please visit the first post in this series, “Staying Home.”

Today’s song, “The Day We Made You Cut Your Hair (For I.L.),” is a powerful ballad that conveys the oppression of and atrocities against Indigenous Peoples in what is now North America and, specifically, during the period of what was called the Indian Residential Schools system in Canada. From the 1870s to the 1990s, these institutions stole 150,000 Indigenous children from their families in a deliberate attempt to erase their traditional culture and languages. Thousands of children died from abuse and neglect, and the survivors and their families suffer devastating multi-generational trauma because of this genocidal act carried out by the Government of Canada and the Catholic Church, which administered the schools on behalf of the government. (Please see my post on Robbie Robertson’s “Golden Feather” for further details about this system.) The United States government conducted a similar program.

Kieran says this about his motivation to write the song: “This is a song I wrote for a very important person in my life. It was inspired by an experience he had when he was young of being teased for his long hair. It reminded me so much of the kind of thing that happened to his ancestors when they were forced into residential schools.

“I know many people my age did not learn about residential schools when they were young. When I was in grade 5, we had a survivor come to our school and taught us about the horrors that occurred there. It shaped a big part of how I view the world. I remember specifically learning about how the males of some nations would only cut their hair when someone in their family died, and that when the priests were cutting their hair at the schools, many of the children were confused and thought their family members had died. That stuck with me.

“The words in this song are very intentionally chosen. The use of words like ‘we’ are my attempt at taking accountability. Many settler Canadians argue that because they are not personally responsible for the residential school system, they do not have anything to be sorry for. This is false. Settler Canadians, especially white Canadians, have a vast responsibility in reconciliation. We benefit from living in a country like Canada, and the benefits we enjoy come at the direct expense of Indigenous Peoples. The wealth of this nation comes from the exploited resources that Indigenous Peoples once engaged in a symbiotic relationship with.

“As of 2021, the Canadian government had completed 8 of the 94 calls to action by the truth and reconciliation commission. This is unacceptable. It is also unacceptable that many of us have seemingly moved on from the issue. Just because we are somehow over the initial shock of the bodies found in Kamloops does not mean that this search is not continuing. It is. The number has reached nearly 2500.

“Nothing will bring those children back home. We need to work together to build a system in which every child does matter. This is not our reality, but it must be.”

Here is “The Day We Made You Cut Your Hair”:

“The day we made you cut your hair
Was the day our country failed, I swear
What were we doing with our scissors and our crosses
Blood sweat tears and dignity is what it cost us
The day we made you cut your hair
The day we made you cut your hair

The day we made you cut your hair
Helpless little children living scared
What were we doing with those lashings and those lessons
Putting you down became our only profession
The day we made you cut your hair
The day we made you cut your hair
The day we made you cut your hair
The day we made you cut your hair

The day we made you cut your hair
Four hundred years and we’re not getting anywhere
What are we doing with our empty worded speeches
When mothers of daughters are spending their nights sleepless
The day we made you cut your hair
The day we made you cut your hair
The day we made you cut your hair
The day we made you cut your hair”

Words and music © 2023 by Kieran West.

Kieran West: acoustic guitar, vocal.

In May 2021, the remains of 215 children were located in unmarked graves on the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation at the site of a former residential school in what’s now Kamloops, British Columbia, Canada. Though witnesses at the hearings held by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada spoke of deaths and unmarked graves, the Kamloops “discovery” marked the first time the government and society truly began to acknowledge the brutality of the residential schools. Many people were outraged and sought ways to make sense of the despicable crimes. As a result, some have taken the time to learn about this dark period in our history. The free online course Indigenous Canada, offered by the University of Alberta on the learning platform, is an excellent resource that I highly recommend as a step in our personal journeys of reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples.

A line later on in the song says, “… mothers of daughters are spending their nights sleepless,” which is a reference to the horrific, ongoing issue of missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls and two-spirited (MMIWG2S+); a further epidemic of trauma for Indigenous Peoples. Currently, investigation continues into an alleged serial killer believed to be responsible for the disappearances and murders of four Indigenous women within a span of two months in and around Winnipeg, Manitoba, in 2022.

There is so much reconciliation, justice and healing needed, and I appreciate and honour voices like Kieran’s, keeping these issues at the forefront, and encouraging awareness and action.

Now you know a little about why this is my Song of the Day for Today. Thanks for joining me here.

Here is the audio from the Kieran West YouTube topic channel:

We’ll be back tomorrow with the fifth track from Dark Little Ones.

With my best wishes,


5 thoughts on “The Day We Made You Cut Your Hair (for I.L.)

  1. I learnt a lot about the indigenous people and what they faced and continue to face when I was studying in Canada. It’s really heartbreaking. This song really broke my heart and so does the information you shared.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Pooja, thank you for your thoughtful comment. Yes, these are very disturbing parts of my country’s history. I admire those who get up every day dealing with such burdens. 🙏🏼
      PS: interesting to know you studied here!

      Liked by 1 person

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