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Barber relates success story to SGEI students

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While most students in the district are counting down the days left to the start of school, one classroom invited a special visitor to help cap off their final week of studies.

Students of Seven Generations Education Institute's (SGEI) hairstyling program enjoyed a special visit and opportunity to learn from a professional barber on Monday as their program comes to an end.

Tyrone Choken is an aboriginal barber out of Winnipeg. He works at SAINT, a barbershop located in the heart of Winnipeg's Exchange district, which counts some high-profile individuals among its clientele.

“I do haircuts for Winnipeg Jets, Blue Bombers, UFC fighters,” Choken said.

“That's just a couple of people that are on my resumé.”

Choken was in the SGEI classroom on Monday at the invite of Elizabeth Vanderveen, an instructor of the hairstyling program, who also once taught Choken when he was going through school.

Vanderveen explained she knew it would be a good opportunity for her students to learn from Choken's experience.

“When I came on board in June, I saw that these girls were not understanding the barbering end of it very well,” Vanderveen said.

"I contacted Aimee [Beazley, SGEI post-secondary co-ordinator] and I said, 'I've got a guy who can really relate to these girls, and he's really good at showing his work.'

“So we brought him in for the day so that they can learn the latest stuff that's going on, which is really exciting because they're going to be one step ahead of I think everybody in Fort,” she added.

Choken explained that as a barber, he focuses mainly on men's haircuts and styles, as opposed to other hairstylists who may do men's cuts as well as women's, styling and colour.

“In a regular salon you wouldn't see this kind of fading and stuff like that going on,” Vanderveen added.

“It's very much precision, and it's very much an artistic, creative thing.”

Over the course of the morning, Choken explained his work to the class, using a volunteer to demonstrate the techniques he uses from day to day.

Vanderveen explained that the specific techniques of the barber aren't as widespread as they once were, and those who are interested in becoming a barber have few choices other than to take a hairstyling course or program.

“Back in the '70s it was its own trade, and then I think it was in '79 they amalgamated it into the hairstyling,” she said.

“So even though he's only barbering, he had to go through the whole hair program and learn the roller sets and the pin curls and all the stuff he really didn't care to learn, but he had to do that to get a licence in order for him to practice just the barbering.”

For Choken, the work he does as a barber came about after an accident at his former job.

“Long story short, I was working construction, got into an accident working on a flatbed truck,” he explained.

“We lost 14,000 pounds of the drywall materials. We rolled the truck. I messed up my back and I was on worker's compensation.”

During his time off, and struggling to make ends meet on worker's compensation, Choken started cutting hair in order to earn extra money to cover his bills.

“I knew how to cut hair before, but I started getting really good at it, so I started making more money off it,” Choken said.

“It kind of just snowballed from there, people started realizing how good my haircuts were, and it kind of just got bigger and bigger and it eventually led me to where I am today.”

For Choken though, his job is more to him than just work.

“I've always been artistic,” he explained.

“I was always drawing growing up, always into art. In junior high I noticed this guy doing crazy haircuts. I was wondering who was doing all these haircuts, and my brother finally introduced me to him and I was kind of like, 'This is a new form of art to me.'”

“It is more of an art to me, I don't see it as work,” he continued.

“I get up Monday morning, I'm happy to go to work, because it's something I love doing.”

Choken also explained that when he began working in Winnipeg, he was the only aboriginal barber in the city.

“Now we have probably 10-plus aboriginal barbers in Winnipeg,” he said.

“It's starting to grow and kind of motivated people to move forward and push their limits and now they're working alongside me and we're doing amazing.”

In the classroom, Choken stressed to the students that as easy as he made his work look, it took time for him to get there, and that they shouldn't be discouraged when their first barber cut took longer than expected.

“There's a lot to it and it takes time,” he said.

“It took me five, six years to get to the point where I am now.”

But the work he does is a point of pride, and he's thankful for the opportunities it has provided him.

“I never thought in my life I'd be coming to teach classes and travelling Ontario educating people on how to do men's hair,” Choken said.

“It's been an amazing journey for me. It's crazy.”

Anyone interested can visit Choken's Instagram page @tripsev.the.barber for photos of his work.

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