Marking 1st-ever national Ribbon Skirt Day in northern Ontario
Ribbon skirts are often worn in ceremonies or special events, but can be for everyday use
Autumn Lewis from Wiikwemikong First Nation, Ont., has been wearing and making ribbon skirts since her youth. She even sews them for her seven-year-old daughter.
She plans to make a new creation to wear, especially for Canada's first-ever National Ribbon Skirt Day on Wednesday (Jan. 4).
Canadian Senator Mary Jane McCallum introduced a bill in March 2021 to have the day formally recognized.
At the time, she said she was inspired by 10-year-old Isabella Kulak. The young Saskatchewan girl had been shamed for wearing her ribbon skirt at school, just a few months earlier.
Bill S-219 received royal assent and passed in Parliament in December. National Ribbon Skirt Day will be held every Jan. 4.
In Indigenous culture, ribbon skirts can be worn in ceremonies or special events, but Lewis said they can also be worn every day. Each skirt is different and reflects the identity and personality of the owner.
Lewis is the healing and wellness co-ordinator at the N'Swakamok Native Friendship Centre in Sudbury, Ont. She holds workshops to teach others how to sew their own skirts as a way to help with their healing journeys.
"Letting them take the reins on what they envision in their ribbon skirt — it's just really part of taking back your culture, giving to your own spirit and then just having a moment to feel special," she said.
Lewis calls ribbon skirts a "very important part of my culture, my identity.
"I just feel very proud when I wear it."
Louise Jocko of Birch Island near Manitoulin said there have been times when she felt apprehensive about wearing her ribbon skirt as well. She also works at N'Swakomok Native Friendship Centre, with the homeless support program.
"I've come from powwows and I'm still wearing my skirt, and I come out of the car and in the back of my mind [wondering if] people are staring at me. But that really boils down to my self-confidence," she said.
"It's just being able to be comfortable in my own skin, at the same time as wearing the ribbon dress."
Jocko added that reflecting her own identity and personality in her ribbon skirt makes her walk more confidently.
"Each person has their own story behind their skirts. Each person has their own colours that they bring with them when they make the skirt," she said.
"I think it really does bring about the resiliency and it shows the strength in our people that we're reclaiming that culture and identity ... wearing these skirts."
Jocko said she normally gets others to make her ribbon skirts. She recalled that the only time she learned how to sew one for herself, it came out shaped like a bell.
"I didn't get the cut right and so it's pretty baggy and it's flared out."
But Jocko said her favourite ribbon skirt has fabric with a northern lights pattern, and the seamstress embroidered two wolves on it, "Because it reminded me of my husband, who's passed on now."
Both Jocko and Lewis are thrilled to be wearing their ribbon skirts for National Ribbon Skirt Day.
Jocko said that as soon as she heard about the national day, she immediately asked Lewis if she would be wearing her ribbon skirt to work that day.
"I'm so excited to actually get my daughter to wear hers to school," Lewis said, "then seeing what kind of conversations come up in her classroom and what she comes back to tell me."