By Chevi Rabbit For Ponoka News
Indigenous ribbon skirts have become a permanent fixture in many parts of Canadian Society. The resurgence of Cree ribbon skirts has different meanings for the women who wear them.
“Ribbon skirts show my identity as an Indigenous woman,” said Maskwacis resident Luwana Listener.
“I like to sew my own and choose colours and designs meaningful to me.”
Her mom was her first teacher who taught her sewing and beading. She says that it’s been a way for her to be creative and to honour the Cree teachings she received.
Holly Johnson, a long-time Cree politician for Samson Cree Nation said “As a leader of my Nation and as a nehiyow iskwew I was raised with the value and knowledge of being a woman and wearing a dress.
“Since the revitalization of the ribbon skirt, I own several skirts and I wear them proudly. I was raised by my grandmother and taught to respect my womanhood and continue to learn the powers we have been blessed with by the Creator.
“In reflecting on my ribbon skirts I recognized that they are a symbol of who I am as a nehiyow iskwew (translate to Cree Woman),” said Johnson.
“I have a skirt for a water ceremony, I have a skirt for honouring MMIWG, I have a skirt with a teepee design, which in essence is the domain of the woman.”
Johnson says that local Cree Elders taught her to respect the body that was given to us by the Creator and one way of demonstrating that is with “ adornment” — ka kiskinowâcihtaya (translation: to decorate) our body and that “Pre-European contact, there were no ribbons. Women wore dresses made from leather and the decoration was done with feathers, shells, leather, etc.”
Johnson is excited about the revitalization of ribbon skirts. She notices that there is so much variety in designs and many powerful make statements. She’s proud that the younger generation back their Indigenous heritage with such creativity.
Ponoka Seconday Campus student Ceejay Currie says her dress is called a “three generations dress.”
She says that she had a local ribbon skirt designer create a dress that honours her role as a daughter to her late mother and the strength of her grandma. She says her dress pays tribute to the women in her family.
Suzanne Life-Yeomans, Chair of the First Nation Women’s Council on Economic Security and member of Alberta’s joint working group on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls says she feels empowered as a Dene woman when she wears her ribbon skirts. She says that her mother lost her Indigenous culture due to residential schools and the Sixties Scoop.
“In turn I was not raised around my heritage; when I wear my ribbon skirt it is healing my spirit and connecting me to Mother Earth. I hope to help other Indigenous people to be proud of their culture and to embrace the teachings around making and wearing ribbon skirts,” Life-Yeomans said.
Ponoka resident Marilyn Tobaccojuice says that when she wears a Ribbon Skirt, “ You can feel the power it holds, that your ancestors are with you. You feel strong, confident and proud. The resilience is that I am here and able to wear what my people couldn’t.”