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  • Writer's pictureClaudio Fibonacci

Roots of Resilience: How Hair Holds Memories on a South Dakota Reservation

On This South Dakota Reservation, Hair Is Memory

On This South Dakota Reservation, Hair Is Memory


The Importance of Hair in Indigenous Culture

“Hair is very important to our people,” says Ashley Phelps-Garcia, a jingle dancer and enrolled member of the Oglala Lakota Nation. According to her, “the hair holds all of our memories. It’s your medicine, your power.” This belief highlights the deep cultural significance that hair holds within the Indigenous community.

The Art of Braiding and its Meaning

One of the key figures in this narrative is Reanna Ella Gourd, an Oglala Sioux braider who emphasizes the significance of braiding within Indigenous culture. Gourd customizes each design, taking around two hours to complete a braiding session. She explains that before she starts braiding, she assesses the overall quality of the hair and can feel the individual’s vibe through her hands.

The Spiritual Connection

Allowing someone to braid your hair is considered a significant honor as it symbolizes trust in that person with your spirit. The act of braiding goes beyond mere styling; it is a spiritual and intimate experience that connects the braider and the individual on a deeper level.

The Personalized Touch

Each braid design created by Gourd is unique to the person sitting in front of her, reflecting their personality and essence. By infusing elements of love and consideration into the braiding process, she creates not just a hairstyle but a representation of the individual’s inner beauty.

Celebrating Heritage through Hairstyling

The intricate braids and designs crafted by Gourd are not just about aesthetics but also serve as a celebration of heritage and tradition. Each braid tells a story, drawing inspiration from nature, family connections, and cultural influences.

Empowering Through Hair

For individuals like Taylor Campbell, embracing cultural elements in hairstyling becomes a form of empowerment and self-expression. By incorporating inspirations from renowned fashion houses like Versace alongside handmade elements, Campbell’s braids become a unique blend of heritage and modernity.


On the South Dakota reservation, the art of hair braiding transcends mere styling; it is a form of storytelling, connection, and empowerment. Through intricate designs and personalized touches, individuals like Reanna Ella Gourd and her clients celebrate their heritage and culture with each braid, turning hair into a canvas of memories and identity.

Photography by Carlos Jaramillo

Special Thanks to The Phelps-Garcia Family, Tracy Nguyen, Tane Talalotu, Christian Allaire, and the Očhéthi Šakówiŋ

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