AURORA, Colo. (KDVR) — An investigation is underway to determine who cut the waist-length hair off a Native American man while he was undergoing medical treatment in Colorado.

The family said they were shocked to see the elder’s hair gone, as the culture believes it has deep spiritual significance.

Arthur Janis is a member of the Independent Oglala Lakotah Nation. His friends and family led a procession to the lawn of UCHealth in Aurora on Thursday afternoon, demanding to know who was responsible for removing Janis’ hair.

“It wasn’t for an operation, somebody just cut his hair off,” Janis’ brother, Keith Janis, said.

Males’ hair is preserved for life

Keith Janis told Nexstar’s KDVR that his brother had hair down past his waist when he came to Aurora to be treated for blood clots in his abdominal area.

His family, who is from South Dakota, discovered on Nov. 3 that Arthur Janis’ hair had been chopped off. He had been in the hospital since early September.

“My sister called me, and she was holding back tears and she was very emotional,” Keith Janis said.

He said traditional male members of the nation never cut their hair, but rather take steps to preserve it their entire life. After a member dies, a lock of the hair is cut and used in ceremonies to remember loved ones. Members believe the hair has deep symbolism and strength.

“And we use that power at times like this, when times are hard, and they robbed him of that,” Oyuhpe Tokala Society member Reddog said.

UCHealth responds

Keith Janis said his brother had recently been treated in two facilities: UCHealth in Aurora and a skilled nursing facility in Denver. They are not sure where his hair was cut.

A UCHealth spokesperson, in a statement to KDVR, said its investigators would work with Janis’ relatives to find answers.

“UCHealth and its nurses, physicians and staff members have deep respect for our patients and their individual beliefs and customs,” the spokesperson said. “We agree that a patient should be fully informed and should consent to any medical care, and that their culture must be honored. We are committed to working with family members to investigate any concerns and to help determine if an incident happened at one of our care locations.”

Arthur Janis’ family has vowed to press for answers, and is hoping his hair — being a deeply spiritual symbol — has not been lost or destroyed so it can be returned to its rightful owner.

Janis himself currently has a hard time speaking, and it’s not clear if he can help identify who cut his hair, or where it occurred.