#KokumScarfCampaign comes to Winnipeg

The Forks became a backdrop Sunday for an ongoing social media campaign and photo contest started in Saskatchewan with the goal of empowering Indigenous women.

Social media campaign sends message of empowerment for Indigenous women

Winnipeg filmmaker Diandre Thomas-Hart organized a photo shoot at The Forks in Winnipeg Sunday as part of #KokumScarfCampaign. (Avi Jacob/CBC )

The Forks became a backdrop Sunday for an ongoing social media campaign and photo contest started in Saskatchewan with the goal of empowering Indigenous women.

The #KokumScarfCampaign asks women to upload photos of themselves wearing ribbon skirts and kokum scarves — the colourful scarves that their Indigenous grandmothers, or kokums, are well known to wear — while wearing a "statement tee" from an Indigenous-owned business.

Every woman who posts a photo is asked to include a caption about what makes her resilient, something that appeals to filmmaker Diandre Thomas-Hart, who organized the photo shoot in Winnipeg.

"I thought, what a beautiful idea, it's so awesome," Thomas-Hart told CBC News before a group of women and children met for the shoot Sunday afternoon.

"There's so many powerful, amazing people doing great work here in their own communities so I thought let's raise them up and empower them."

"The campaign it makes me feel proud and it makes me wanna be seen wearing it and showing off the beauty behind it," said Killa Atencio. (Killa Atencio / Facebook )

The campaign was started by Tala Tootoosis, a Nakota Sioux, Onkwehonkwe and Plains Cree woman from Poundmaker Cree Nation in Saskatchewan, and is meant to help women reclaim their identity, celebrate the beauty of being resilient and be seen for who they are.

"That kokum, that power, the power to scold. That power to love you, that power to be strong. That power to wake up at 6 a.m. and start cutting up deer meat and making bannock and cleaning the house — and she's 85," Tootoosis told CBC Saskatchewan.

Tootoosis said she feels it's important to "pass on the torch of empowerment."

"If I feel empowered because somebody asked me [about resilience], I think it is important to do the same for other women," she said.

"If we're talking about it, it becomes common knowledge that we are stronger than our weaknesses."

'These are very powerful items'

Thomas-Hart took pictures of the other women and got in front of the camera herself wearing a scarf and skirt.

The skirts bring the wearer closer to Mother Earth as a reminder of where they come from, said Thomas-Hart, and the scarves were traditionally worn while they would tan hides after a hunt.

"They would be scrapping, (so) they would have to keep their long hair out of the way," she explained.

"That's why the kokum's scarves became a symbol of power, because who has the strength to get up so early before the sun comes up to do that and prepare for the day? Your kokum would.

"So I think these are very powerful items."

Elissa Gabriel, who runs the Eagle's Nest Youth Resource and Recreation Program for the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, took part in the photo shoot, wearing a skirt she made with participants in the program.

She said the message of female empowerment resonated with her.

"I love the feeling of just uplifting one another," she said.

"It gives us that hope and resiliency and that strength that we need to come together and just enjoying each other's one beauty."

The #KokumScarfCampaign closes Dec. 31, when four winners will receive a variety of prizes including clothes from Indigenous-owned businesses.

Women will still be able to submit pictures after the contest ends and Tootoosis says she has plans to make a book.

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With files from Avi Jacob