Family considers legal action

Friday 14 February 2020 | Written by Losirene Lacanivalu | Published in Culture


Family considers legal action
Cyrus Taniela. 20021319

Australian primary school gives Cook Islands boy ultimatum to adhere to strict uniform policy.

Legal action is being considered against an Australian private school that is demanding a five-year-old Cook Islander boy cut his long hair.

Australian Christian College – Moreton gave parents of Cyrus Taniela time until yesterday to chop his hair in order to remain at school. The school says their uniform policy states boys’ hair must be above the collar and ponytails and buns are not permitted.

Gabriella Letaulau, the aunt of the boy, yesterday told Cook Islands News the family was not backing down from fighting for their cultural right despite the ultimatum from the school.

Cutting a boy’s hair for the first time is a rite of passage in the Cook Islands culture and Cyrus Taniela’s family wanted to wait until he is seven to give him his first haircut.

Gabriella Letaulau said the school sent a letter to Cyrus’ mum Wendy giving her until yesterday to cut his hair or lose the enrolment.

“She (Wendy) doesn’t want to back down. The Cook Island Council have lodged a complaint with Human Rights and are looking at taking legal action.”

Letaulau said the Cook Islands Queensland community have also sent an email to the school advising the significance of hair cutting ceremony.

Queensland Human Rights Commission spokeswoman Kate Marsh earlier said that the school’s hair policy appeared to be indirect discrimination – and they would likely accept a complaint about this if the family lodged one.

Earlier this month Gabriella Letaulau reached out to this newspaper revealing their ongoing issue with the school over her nephew’s long hair.

She said the mother explained the cultural tradition behind their decision to maintain Cyrus’ hair but the school rejected their request.

“A 5-year old boy is being told to cut his hair against his culture, even after being informed what his hair length represented, and was still informed it was not a good enough reason for him to keep the length of his hair.”

Cyrus’ hair cutting ceremony is planned for his seventh birthday.

Jason Taniela, the father of the boy, earlier said that he has been dreaming of his son’s hair-cutting ceremony ever since Cyrus was born.

Wendy Taniela said she spent more time on her son’s hair than on her daughter Jaylia-Anna who attends the same school.

She said she braided Cyrus’ hair and tucked it up above his collar, keeping it neat and tidy.

Gary Underwood, the principal of Australian Christian College – Moreton, in a statement said that he “is an enthusiastic supporter of islander people and their customs”.

He said that he understood the customs and its values to Pacific Islanders.

However, Underwood said that it was the board’s decision and the policies, procedures and guidelines needed to be consistent across all of the student body.

All students are to conform to the Board approved policies, procedures and guidelines, he added.

Cook Islander Tere Kimi, 63, said traditional hair cutting ceremony is a big celebration in the Cook Islands culture.

“It is the next chapter in life for a young boy, another step to become a man.”

Kimi said he was blessed to have had the hair cutting ceremony by his parents and for any son it is always a blessing.