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RCMP ribbon skirts ‘disheartening’, ‘insulting’: Indigenous activists

Click to play video: 'Critics dismiss RCMP addition of Indigenous ribbon skirt'
Critics dismiss RCMP addition of Indigenous ribbon skirt
WATCH: Ever since 1990 when Baltej Singh Dhillon won the right to wear a turban while on duty, the RCMP, on occasion, adjusted its uniform regulations to reflect cultural and religious diversity in its ranks. The latest edition, a ribbon skirt, is now part of the ceremonial uniform options for Indigenous officers who identify as women or Two-Spirit people. Public reaction to the change is largely negative. Melissa Ridgen explains why – May 24, 2024

Ribbon skirts are now being allowed as part of RCMP uniforms, but many Indigenous people are saying Mounties shouldn’t get to wear the sacred symbol.

“They have a long history of oppressive actions towards Indigenous people in Canada, including enforcing the residential school policies,” said activist and TikTok influencer Kairyn Potts.

RCMP Commissioner Mike Duheme announced that officers can now wear ribbon skirts when donning the red serge, saying it demonstrates the RCMP’s commitment to reconciliation, equity, diversity and inclusion.

Officers have also been allowed to incorporate eagle feathers and the Métis sash into their uniforms.

Potts said it’s disheartening to see Canada donning important symbols of Indigenous communities, saying RCMP should be doing other things to improve relations with Indigenous communities.

“If that’s where your head is, then search the landfill,” he said. “Stop over incarcerating Indigenous people. Stop doing all of the things that you’re currently doing to treat Indigenous people like garbage.”

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Potts made a TikTok about the ribbon skirt move by RCMP and said he has approximately 900 comments asking RCMP for “actionable change” instead of wearing the skirts.

He said more Indigenous people should have been consulted about the decision.

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“I don’t know if I know any indigenous people who are ribbon skirt makers who would be like, yeah, let me make you whip you up a skirt for the uniform,” he said.

“Someone who doesn’t share the overwhelming consensus of being upset at this has spoken and given their brown stamp of approval, I feel like now it’s just happening and everyone’s upset about it and they’re like, well, you natives, you’re the ones who said that we were allowed to. So, you know, you made your bed.”

Sixties Scoop activist Katherine Strongwind called the move from RCMP an “insult.”

“The RCMP were formed by the colonial government to clear the prairies for Settlers, suppress First Nations resistance, and to forcibly remove Indigenous children from their communities and take them to residential schools,” she said in an email statement.

She said there is “nothing Indigenous about the RCMP.”

“They can hire Indigenous people but it doesn’t change their many human rights violations and their continued role in Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. Ribbon skirts are sacred and not to be associated with genocide,” she said, adding whoever thought of the idea should be fired.

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RCMP said the ribbon skirt is an initiative of the Women’s Indigenous Network, a network for RCMP Indigenous women and two-spirited employees.

A statement from RCMP Thursday said the skirt, along with eagle feathers and Métis sashes will help represent Indigenous employees and support recruiting efforts.

The skirts will be worn with ceremonial dress for cadet troop graduations, religious services, Change of Command services and community events.

Cree RCMP Alberta Inspector Kim Mueller said she sees the ribbon skirt as a way to recognize Indigenous women in policing and is disappointed in how the community is receiving it.

“I am a First Nations woman who is a proud police officer,” Mueller told Global News. “My elders, my family, my community are also proud of that and this is a way to celebrate people like me within the RCMP.”

She said the skirts aren’t meant to dismiss injustices at the hands of RCMP officers.

“We’re not trying to hide behind the skirts and pretend that residential schools didn’t happen. But going forward and in reconciliation is being inclusive, is being respectful, is representing the communities that you serve,” Meuller said.

She said making this happen was a long time coming.

“This has been three years in the making,” she said. “You know, a group of us Indigenous women who so badly want this, we’ve been fighting our way to make this happen, and we’re celebrating that it’s a reality.”

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– with files from The Canadian Press

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