Once ashamed to wear her ribbon skirt, Sask. woman reclaims its power

A ribbon skirt maker from the Kawacatoose First Nation says National Ribbon Skirt Day has been "a long time coming" as that pride for wearing the apparel was absent growing up. Photo submitted / Agnes Yellow Bear

A ribbon skirt maker from the Kawacatoose First Nation takes pride in the nationally celebrated day but it wasn’t always like that.

“For myself as a child, the reason I felt ashamed wearing long skirts (was) all the racism that I experienced in Saskatchewan affected me so much, I never wanted to wear those skirts,” said Agnes Yellow Bear.

It took years of self-healing for Yellow Bear, who is a well-known dress and ribbon skirt maker that resides in Newtown, North Dakota with her husband and children.

Photo credit: Agnes Yellow Bear

“As an adult, I’ve had to work really hard at healing that shame and healing that hurt part of me so that I understand I have a right to be able to show up in spaces however I choose,” she said. “If I want to wear something I created or something another ribbon skirt maker created, I have that right and I want my children to know the same.”

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Yellow Bear kickstarted her own company called ReeCreations that strives to empower Indigenous peoples through her clothing.

“It’s been really incredible to see the growth not only of ReeCreations, but … the ribbon skirt movement,” she said. “The demand has been so great.”

Agnes Yellow Bear designed a ribbon skirt for Deb Haaland, the first Native American cabinet member in U.S. history. Photo submitted: Agnes Yellow Bear

Under Bill S-227, Jan. 4 is recognized as National Ribbon Skirt Day which was inspired by a little girl from the Cote First Nation after she was shamed in school for wearing a ribbon skirt on formal day. The movement created a ripple effect across the country when Indigenous women wear their ribbon skirts in solidarity with Isabella Kulak and her family.

“It’s an overwhelming experience. I still can’t get over where we were three years ago to where we are today,” said Isabella’s mother, Lana Kulak. “A lot has happened and it’s just getting bigger and better and connecting with so many more people globally.”

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Earlier this year, Lana lost her mother. She was someone who strongly supported the ribbon skirt movement.

The Kamsack Comprehensive Institute (KCI), where Isabella attends school, had a special ceremony for ribbon skirt day but also to honour Lana’s mother, Stella Pelly.

Pelly was the KCI elder, and in her memory, the school renamed the Indigenous room to this Stella Pelly Saulteaux heritage room.

“We were approached right after my mom had passed in March and we chose the day January 4th, to be the day that the renaming would happen, because this day meant so much to her,” said Kulak.

“We just felt like it went hand-in-hand. And it was just a very emotional event, and it was so beautiful at the same time.”

The ribbon skirt movement continues to inspire Yellow Bear to not be afraid in using her voice, and to stand up for what is right.

“I’m really proud of Isabella. Not everybody speaks up when things happen to them, when they’re bullied (and) when they’re picked on,” said Yellow Bear. “It’s a good feeling and it’s a beautiful movement to (be) a part of. For me, this day has been I feel like a long time coming.”

Click to play video: 'Canada’s first National Ribbon Skirt Day celebrates Indigenous women and culture'
Canada’s first National Ribbon Skirt Day celebrates Indigenous women and culture


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