School division to hold 'ribbon skirt day' after girl shamed for wearing skirt in Kamsack
Ribbon skirts are traditionally worn to Indigenous ceremonies and represent strength and womanhood
Ten-year-old Isabella Kulak and her family have received an apology and a promise to do better from Quintin Robertson, director of education at the Good Spirit School Division.
The apology comes after Kulak, a member of Cote First Nation in eastern Saskatchewan, was shamed for wearing her ribbon skirt to a Kamsack Comprehensive Institute formal day in December.
"A comment was made that would have cast some shame on Isabella for her traditional ribboned skirt and questioning whether or not it would meet the definition of formal wear," Robertson said in his apology.
"It's with great regret, great regret on my behalf and that of the board that this has happened and even greater regret that a 10-year-old girl in the Good Spirit School Division felt [anything] but pride and excitement with wearing this traditional garment."
Ribbon skirts are traditionally worn to Indigenous ceremonies and represent strength and womanhood.
When Isabella wore the ribbon skirt to Kamsack Comprehensive Institute, an educational assistant told her the outfit was mismatched and that she should have worn a store-bought dress.
Robertson said the division has taken strides to make sure Indigenous students feel safe and proud of their heritage, but the incident shows much more needs to be done.
"This has illustrated to us that there's still systemic racism and misunderstanding, a lack of understanding of culture, of Indigenous culture, Indigenous heritage, and some of the systemic barriers that are in place, invisible barriers and some that are visible," Robertson said.
Details of Isabella's experience were posted on Facebook by her aunt.
For weeks now, people from across Canada and from as far as Germany and Puerto Rico have been sharing photos and videos of themselves wearing their own ribbon skirts or shirts to show support for Isabella.
Robertson said the school board will be meeting with members of the Cote First Nation on Jan. 11 to develop an advisory committee made up of members from First Nations to examine what led to this event and what barriers Indigenous students face.
"We'll continue to work collaboratively with Cote First Nation and our other First Nation partners to make sure that Indigenous students in our school division understand the power of their heritage," Robertson said. "And those that aren't of Indigenous ancestry understand exactly the power of that heritage and our obligation as Treaty people."
Robertson said they also plan to hold a Ribbon Skirt Day sometime this month.
With files from Bonnie Allen, Samanda Brace, Theresa Kliem and Janani Whitfield