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Family of Indigenous man says his hair was cut without consent at CU Anschutz

In Lakota culture, hair symbolizes strength and a connection to ancestors.
Arthur in hospital.jpg
Posted at 4:45 PM, Nov 16, 2023
and last updated 2023-11-16 20:14:59-05

AURORA, Colo. — The family of a Lakota man from South Dakota is demanding answers after his waist-length hair was cut without consent while he was receiving care at CU Anschutz.

Keith Janis said his brother, Arthur Janis, was life-flighted to CU Anschutz from South Dakota in late October following a medical emergency. Janis said Arthur underwent abdominal surgery.

“My sister called me from North Dakota. She's my brother Arthur’s proxy for the hospital because he really can't make decisions for himself. But she hadn't talked to him in quite awhile. And so she called down to Colorado University Hospital to talk with him and wanted to FaceTime with him. And then they put the camera on him, she noticed his hair was all chopped off. And so she got really sad and upset about it,” Janis said.

In Lakota culture, hair symbolizes strength and a connection to ancestors.

“We have part of our traditional ceremonies, one called ‘keeping of the spirit’ that's a very important rite of our people. ‘Keeping of the spirit,’ you have to take a lock of your loved one's hair when they pass… and that gets put into a bundle. And that's kept for a year until the memorial of your passing. And then the whole community comes together and hugs the bundle, prays for you. But all during this time leading up to the memorial, somebody is appointed to keep the spirit of the loved one whose hair you have. And they can't take part of ceremonies or celebrations or anything, I can't even sing… they do this for the whole year to care for the spirit of this person whose lock of hair you have. And that's taken from Arthur. He doesn't have that anymore,” Janis said.

Janis traveled from South Dakota to CU Anschutz to visit Arthur a week ago to find out what happened.

“Colorado University Hospital pulled the shift nurses and supervising nurses and security and everybody together into a conference room to find out what happened to his hair and to look for video surveillance. But they just gave us a big old runaround and they're blaming Center at Lowry, where they'd been sending him for rehab,” Janis said.

But Janis doesn’t believe the rehab center had anything to do with cutting Arthur’s hair.

“There is no way you can be in acute care — because he's an acute patient — there is no way that that kind of thing can happen to a patient in acute care without somebody knowing about it,” Janis said.

Janis decided to file a police report. 

“I asked where I could file a police report, and they told me that they had hospital security. And so I thought it was kind of strange, you know, that they're going to police themselves,” Janis said.

Janis tried to file the report with Aurora Police Department but was told there was a jurisdiction issue.

“I had to ultimately surrender to giving my report instead to the hospital, Colorado University Hospital’s security. And then when I was visiting with that gentleman and handing the report in, then he actually got on the phone with the police department in Aurora. And they ultimately did take an incident report from over the telephone. And so yeah, I got a phone call back from that detective, and he told me that they're still trying to figure out the jurisdiction issue here,” Janis said.

In a statement to Denver7, a spokesperson said nurses, physicians and staff have "deep respect for our patients and their individual beliefs and customs."

"UCHealth University of Colorado Hospital is focused on providing excellent, life-saving care for all patients. As an academic medical center, UCH can provide advanced treatments and is able to provide a higher level of care than most other hospitals, which is why we receive transfers of severely ill or injured patients from across our multi-state region.

UCHealth and its nurses, physicians and staff members have deep respect for our patients and their individual beliefs and customs. We work to make sure that patients are fully informed and consent to the medical care they need, and that their culture is valued as we deliver care. In situations in which a patient or family identifies care concerns, UCHealth investigates those concerns and works with the patient and family to share information with them."

Family members and supporters held a protest outside of CU Anschutz on Thursday, November 9. Family members said the hospital has restricted visitations for Arthur, so the group is planning another protest for the evening of Thursday, November 16.

Family of Indigenous man says his hair was cut without consent at CU Anschutz

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