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‘It’s part of my armour’: Indigenous women from Alberta share the strength behind ribbon skirts

Click to play video 'Indigenous women from Alberta share the strength behind ribbon skirts' Indigenous women from Alberta share the strength behind ribbon skirts
WATCH ABOVE: A group of Indigenous women are banding together to bring awareness to the culture and significance behind wearing ribbon skirts. As Sarah Komadina explains, they hope an online challenge will help get the message out. – Sep 12, 2020

Chevi Rabbit was with other women wearing ribbon skirts earlier this year when she said they all were made to feel unwelcome in Edmonton.

“We were having dinner downtown and we basically faced prejudice from other patrons, and they were all looking at the dress, and we felt uncomfortable and unwanted,” Rabbit said.

Instead of getting angry, Rabbit decided to do something about it and change discriminatory behaviour when Indigenous women wear ribbon skirts. Rabbit planned an event called Walk a Mile in a Ribbon Skirt. The goal is to encourage everyone to experience what it is like to wear a ribbon skirt.

“I wish [people] could walk a mile in our ribbon skirts and know the power and strength in our ribbon skirts and know what it represents and [know] the deep history,” she said.

With the walk on Sept. 26, Rabbit is hoping to see more online engagement. She put out a challenge asking Indigenous women to post what their ribbon skirt means to them with the hashtag #MyRibbonSkirt.

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“We are facing discrimination because we are women and because of the colour of our skin, so I think just those layers of barriers is something that we need to overcome as a society,” Rabbit said.

“I think a lot of Indigenous women feel that this is needed.”

Ribbon skirts come in different colours and hold different meanings to the women who wear them.

“Ribbon skirts and Indigenous women, we identify a lot with ceremony. More and more, we are trying to have a contemporary use for our ribbon skirts, to wear them out a lot more,” Katherine Swampy said.

Swampy is a councillor with Samson Cree Nation and is also participating in the online challenge and walk.

Swampy wears a ribbon skirt almost every day.  She said each skirt has a different meaning and sometimes the colour of it expresses that.

“It depends on the maker,” Swampy said.

“A lot of women will make an orange skirt for residential school survivors. They will make a red skirt for missing and murdered Indigenous women. I know the yellow skirt is tied to suicide awareness and survivors of suicide.

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“Edmonton has one of the largest Indigenous populations, urban populations, and there [are] so many amazing and wonderful native women in Edmonton and they’re doing amazing advocacy work.”

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April Eve Wiberg is also taking part.

“I was gifted with my first ribbon skirt back at the 2014 Sisters in Spirit rally here in Edmonton, and it’s just one of the few skirts I have, and I cherish them all equally,” Wiberg said.

“Personally, I feel safer when I wear my ribbon skirt. I feel like it’s part of my armour.”

Charlene Roan-Shirt is taking part in the walk in a ribbon skirt. She said it’s a liberating event.

“Historically, we weren’t allowed to wear our traditional regalia. Essentially, we had to have a pass to wear our regalia in public, and most of the time, it was for parades and whatever events you were allowed to wear them for,” Roan-Shirt said.

“[The walk] is very significant. It’s a huge stepping stone… to be able to walk around with pride wearing our skirts.”