Sewing My Way Back to My Ancestors: A Story of Inspiration, Solidarity and Reciprocity on National Ribbon Skirt Day 

Story shared by Michelle Fournie

You can’t buy Ribbon Skirts from the mall (phewph!). They’re handmade and not everyone knows how to make them. If you don’t have any aunties, Kukums, mentors in your family or close to where you live to show you how to make them, care for them or share the stories of where they came from, it can be difficult to reclaim cultural practices prohibited through government policy.  

Today we celebrate National Ribbon Skirt Day across Turtle Island (Canada). Our Purpose at Rise blesses us with the opportunities to walk alongside our friends/clients while holding space for curious and common questions during Reconciliation-related dates of significance. We continually respond to folks who are eager to respect and support, yet unsure of how to avoid causing more harm to Indigenous Peoples despite good intentions. 

I have questioned whether I am “Indigenous-enough” to wear or make a Ribbon Skirt and in reflecting on this, I am reminded by the inspiring story and encouragement from Grade 5 student Isabella Kulak and member of Cote First Nation to “… wear [my] ribbon skirt with pride without feeling ashamed.”  

Making, purchasing and wearing Ribbon Skirts has been an empowering act of resistance and respect in my life with unexpected gifts that came because of those who came before me. Years after I attended a community-led Ribbon Skirt workshop, I would hold space for Rise Consulting team members to learn how to make Ribbon Skirts from an Indigenous student who was keen in starting her own business teaching and making regalia. It was a beautiful exchange as we learned and followed the protocol necessary to approach an Elder in a Good Way so the student would be rooted in her future work. We are stronger when we gather. Our Nations have always governed community and Ribbon Skirts have played a pivotal role in my life as was the case for the e student who led the workshop immediately pivoted their academic trajectory toward Indigenous entrepreneurship and business because of this positive experience.  

I have made, gifted and worn many skirts since and am adventuring into the wild world of pockets! The experience has become a sense of ancestral remembering I had forgotten.  

When I make a Ribbon Skirt… 

  • I continuously pray for the person who will receive the skirt and those who are represented in each creation, as I was taught.  
  • I practice resourcefulness and only use what is needed by remembering the stories shared with me by Elders through stories and land-based learning and the buffalo hunts. 
  • I am present, focused and connected. I have nowhere else to be, nothing else to do, no roles to fulfill, no systems to navigate or challenge, no expectations to meet.  
  • I witness what comes and goes with each stitch.  
  • I practice self-compassion and I allow myself to take a break, pivot and return when ready.  
  • I feel closer to my late Métis father, who generously passed on his ancestral gifts of creativity, innovation, and craft to me.  
  • I make mistakes and accept them. I see choices to start again with a seam ripper or accept fully that this skirt is a snapshot in time of where I am at today.  
  • I practice and try new things, which can sometimes be terrifying “in real life”.  
  • I can participate in a traditional form of trade, gifting and reciprocity.  
  • I learn to trust my instincts in the colours and patterns I am drawn to.  
  • I donate any honorarium I receive from each gifted skirt to programs that support cultural revitalization and Indigenous youth engagement.   
  • I source authentic Indigenous voices and resources such as sînapân kîskasâkâs: A Guide to Making Contemporary-Style Métis Ribbon Skirts. 
  • I remember my first skirt, full of mistakes yet the most beautiful to me.  

When I wear a Ribbon Skirt… 

  • I stand in solidarity with the fastest growing population in Canada and support the rising presence of Indigenous youth, and the global advocacy efforts of these inspiring young leaders. 
  • I respect the teachings of the Indigenous Peoples and my own ancestors whose worldviews are reflected in the shape, colours, placements, and elements of Ribbon Skirts.  
  • I participate in ceremony in respect for those who have invited me by wearing appropriate attire according to their teachings.  
  • I renew a sense of hope for my children. I celebrate what it means to be a part of a movement of uplifting and empowering Indigenous youth with pride, courage, and respect. 
  • I acknowledge the complexity of Indigenous identity and the most recent conversations of surrounding Indigeneity, cultural resurgence and community-driven efforts to protect Indigenous Knowledges
  • I address the impact of colonial harm, racism and assimilation policy through the Indian Act, which made it illegal to practice culture and outlawed traditional clothes from 1914 to 1951.  
  • I feel proud of who I am today and honour the journey it took to self-identify and outwardly express my Indigeneity. 

We all have a chance to participate in Reconciliation related dates of significance whether wearing a skirt in solidarity or self-expression, learning from resources created and endorsed by Indigenous Peoples, purchasing from Indigenous vendors, funding similar workshops through our organizations, or sharing the story of how Indigenous youth are leading us with pride and courage. 

As with most Reconciliatory efforts, there is a place and role for everyone, always something to learn, and most often something to do about it.   

This lends to a larger conversation about how each of us can appropriately participate in causes, events and actions that progress the rise of Indigenous Peoples. As is with most reconciliatory efforts, there is a place and role for everyone with a standing invitation to fully lean into the opportunity.  

National Ribbon Skirt Day is one of the many opportunities to contest the colonial notion of who can define what is acceptable, good enough, or relevant when it comes to Indigenous ways of diverse cultural practices. It is also a testament to the power of Indigenous Peoples’ influences on public policy. Most often, these days are opportunities to show up for each other, and for those who came and those to come.  

Story shared by Michelle Fournie, Métis mother and Sr. Consultant – Decolonization and Reciprocal Relations at Rise Consulting

Acknowledgement ~ on National Ribbon Skirt Day, Rise Consulting recognizes the lived and lost sacrifices Residential School victims, Indigenous Knowledge Holders and Indigenous Matriarchs have made to protect their stories, practices and languages. We celebrate the diversity of teachings across Indigenous Traditional Territories and the Rise of Indigenous Peoples as we move forward in our shared journey toward Reconciliation.