This piece is one in a series about unapologetic women whose hair makes a statement. Follow their stories here.
Hair caught in a brush often gets thrown in the trash — but not in Chelsey Luger’s family. In fact, when her great, great-grandmother would find hair in her hairbrush, she would burn it in a fire. “When you burn something in a fire, it is released back into the environment — you’re showing it the respect that it deserves,” she says.
Like many cultures throughout the world, Native Americans hold their hair to a higher purpose. No two tribes are alike, but a common thread between each is the importance of hair. As Luger explains, your hair is a physical manifestation of your spirit. Cutting, burying, and burning it all carry a strong significance and meaning. It’s often tradition in some tribes to cut your hair and bury it with the deceased when someone close to you dies. When Luger’s older sister lost her hair to chemotherapy as a child, she cut hers as well. “That was the first time that I organically recognized and heard from my elders how much energy our hair carries, and how symbolic it is,” she says. “It's an extension of us. When I saw that my sister had to lose hers, we're sisters, we're one and the same, and so I couldn't let her lose that energy without giving some of mine.”
Luger doesn’t stray far from her roots, both in her long locks or in her career. Luger originally sought to “make it” far from home; she’s an alumna of Dartmouth College and Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism. But Luger now lives and works in Onk-Akimel O’Odham territory, in Phoenix, Arizona, as a writer, editor, and health and wellness trainer. She covers stories that impact indigenous communities, like Standing Rock, but also often combines her journalism background with her passion for wellness. In 2014, she co-founded Well For Culture, an organization that focuses on methodologies for improving health in Native country. Through that initiative, Luger promotes everything from “ancestral eating” to “functional training and indigenized fitness” through workshops and education. Drawing on the strength of her culture, Luger keeps on the move and strives to make a difference in the community that raised her.
About the Director
Alexandra Stergiou is an award-winning, New York-based director interested in finding new ways to explore cross-cultural identities. Her work has been showcased at festivals and venues around the U.S. In 2014, she was commissioned to develop a documentary workshop in Greece in conjunction with the NGO, Babel, where she worked with migrants and refugees in Athens to make several short films about the city. In addition to her film work and activism, she’s worked as a director, producer, and cinematographer for such brands and publications as Cole Haan, Maybelline, Milk Studios, Refinery29, This American Life, and Glamour. She is currently in post-production for her feature directorial debut, a documentary about Queens teenagers enacting in real time the 2016 Presidential Election. Photo by Vladimir Weinstein.
Alexandra on Chelsey:
“Her story is one of greater purpose: Health and wellness is not just about the individual, but about society at large and the very fate of the land itself.”