Indigenous women in Winnipeg sew skirts in solidarity with Standing Rock

With the hum of sewing machines filling the Circle of Life Thunderbird House, Winnipeg Indigenous women created skirts to send to Standing Rock.

'While we can't physically be down there, this is a way for us to support our sisters'

Gail Fiddler says she is thinking of the people at Standing Rock while sewing warm skirts for protesters. (CBC)

With the hum of sewing machines filling the Circle of Life Thunderbird House, Winnipeg Indigenous women created skirts to send to Standing Rock.

The room was full of fabric and sewing machines for the Sisters Sewing for Standing Rock gathering on Sunday.

"We are sewing longer floor-length skirts, ankle-length skirts, for the women who are down in Standing Rock right now in the Sacred Stone camp," said organizer Chelsea Cardinal.

"It's getting pretty cold out so we are aiming to sew warmer skirts."

The group is adding extra lining and using thicker fabrics like fleece to prepare for cold, but Cardinal said they also have a special meaning.

"In our culture it's very traditionally significant because it honours our feminine energy," she said. "It honours our sacredness as women, as water carriers, as life-givers, it connects our energy to mother earth. So it's pretty significant."

For months, thousands of people have gathered in North Dakota to support the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in their attempt to stop the Dakota Access pipeline. 

After the event on Sunday, news broke that construction has been halted.

Moira Kelley, a spokeswoman for U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, said in a news release Sunday that the administration will not allow the four-state, $3.8-billion pipeline to be built under Lake Oahe, a Missouri River reservoir near the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation.

Cardinal said they weren't deterred by the weather or the eviction notice and still plan to deliver the skirts.

"[So the protectors] know that they are loved and supported. And while we can't physically be down there, this is a way for us to support our sisters," Cardinal said.

Chelsea Cardinal says they are sewing floor-length skirts for women protesting the Dakota Access pipeline. (CBC)
Gail Fiddler worked quietly in the room surrounded by the light hum of her sewing machine. While watching the thread work in and out of the blue fleece, she said her mind is with the people at Standing Rock.

"I know it's probably like harsh conditions out there and [I'm] putting my feelings and well wishes into making this skirt so that it goes with them, to be there with them," she said.

"I can't physically be there with them, and I'd like to … to stand in solidarity with them. This is my way of contributing and a piece of me will be going there."

Kisa MacIsaac painted an original image inspired by the work of Canadian Indigenous artist Isaac Murdoch to be recreated by painters Sunday. (CBC)

Painting fundraiser

Not far away, dozens of other Winnipeggers were also getting crafty to support the cause.

Kisa MacIsaac organized and led a painting fundraiser at the Indigenous Family Centre at 470 Selkirk Ave. For $30, participants followed along to recreate their own versions of an original painting by MacIsaac.

All proceeds will be sent to Standing Rock, she said, to be used however they like. 

"We'll be going step-by-step through a beautiful painting encouraging individual expression at the same time," MacIsaac said before the fundraiser.

"But we'll kind of put some good energy into our painting as we go so we'll end up with this kind of powerful piece of artwork that will be a symbol in our homes to just remind us of what's important."

MacIsaac chose to paint an image of "thunderbird woman," a silhouetted woman originally created by Canadian Indigenous artist Isaac Murdoch. She contacted Murdoch to get his blessing beforehand, she said.

Murdoch's thunderbird woman has become a symbol of the Standing Rock protest, she said.

"I thought it would be a really strong image we could paint that then, each person who is here, who paid for their spot to be here, can then take home this creation with thunderbird woman on it, and then they have this reminder in their home of something they're passionate about and hopefully a movement to action to take care of our world," MacIsaac said.

Painters contributed at least $1,000, said Jasmine Tara, who also helped facilitate the event.