Thunder Bay

Ribbon skirt workshop proving to be popular at Kenora, Ont., high school

Students at St. Thomas Aquinas have been taking part in ribbon skirt workshops every Thursday at lunch.

Workshops have run every Thursday during lunch

A student glues the ribbon for their skirt at the workshop put on at St. Thomas Aquinas. (Supplied by the Kenora Catholic District School Board)

Activities for high school students can extend to any of their interests. From school sports to photography to music, there's an opportunity for everyone.

At St. Thomas Aquinas high school in Kenora, Ont., they can add ribbon skirt making to that list. 

Every Thursday during the lunch hour, students head to the library to take part in ribbon skirt workshops that are facilitated by community members Danielle Kakeway, Mel Skead, and Amy Skead. 

Students learn how to cut out the fabric, sew, and place the ribbons

They've been teaching the students how to cut out the fabric, sew, place the ribbons, and showing them how to craft and create their very own ribbon skirt.

Morgan Smolak, the First Nation Liaison for the Kenora Catholic District School Board, said the idea for the workshops came back in May when she was talking with a colleague on how to increase engagement for First Nation students.

They had thought of a few ideas and landed on ribbon skirts, and brought in their First Nation, Metis and Inuit Education Coordinator and Elder in residence to ask for their advice and guidance.

A student irons out the fabric during the ribbon skirt workshop. (Supplied by the Kenora Catholic District School Board)

"They pointed us in the direction of some community members who'd be willing to work with our students and things just kind of went from there," Smolak said.

Smolak said the response to the workshops have been great and students seem to be really enjoying themselves, so much that they have more students show up than originally registered.

She says these workshops are important because they want to make sure First Nation students are welcome and included.

Workshops are important to make sure students feel welcome

"Ribbon skirts are just such an empowering female symbol. And we do lots of feasts and programs here where they are able to wear the ribbon skirts, so we thought it'd be good if they could make one that they could wear."

The ribbon skirt workshops have been popular, with students showing up that haven't even registered for it. (Supplied by the Kenora Catholic District School Board)

To help facilitate these workshops is Danielle Kakeway. When she was asked, Kakeway said she was totally up for it, and told them she would have to take her baby along as well to the workshops which she did.

For Kakeway, the opportunity to help teach these students make ribbon skirts and for the school to support these initiatives makes her emotional and really moves her.

"It touches me because I didn't grow up with my culture and my identity, so it's pretty cool," said Kakeway through tears. 

"We're working towards a positive relationship and ensuring our students, our First Nations students, that the schools are supportive… they're supportive of our cultures and our traditions. So yeah, it's really nice." 

Workshops were planned after a conversation on how to increase engagement for First Nation students. (Supplied by the Kenora Catholic District School Board)

Kakeway said she's glad she gets to be part of these workshops and share her knowledge, experience, and how she got started. 

Smolak said there are plans to continue these workshops in the new year, and they're looking at ribbon shirt making and potentially beading for the next projects.