April 11, 2017

Ribbon Skirts | Clothing, Strength, and Sacredness

"When you put your skirt on, you're showing Mother Earth who you are." - Myra Laramee (Fisher River Cree Nation)

Last fall, when the Water Protectors stood in solidarity with Standing Rock, I was fortunate to visit the camps on multiple occasions. In preparation for my first visit, I was advised to wear a long skirt because the grounds are sacred and ceremonies were being conducted constantly. The frontline warriors and their supporters needed constant prayers and sacred protection for this dangerous yet important fight.

As the battle to protect the sacred waters waged on, more supporters arrived at camp. Coming from a variety of backgrounds, many came wanting to help in any way possible, and spiritual leaders took the opportunity to also educate about the significance of wearing ceremonial ribbon skirts, especially in this context.

CBC Radio's Unreserved series recently published a video featuring Myra Laramee, who shared her knowldedge of the importance of these skirts.

Older skirts were made from hide and decorated with pigment, and, with the introduction of European trade goods, cotton calico and ribbons were also used to carry on the meanings and teachings. The silhouette of the skirt itself comes from a sacred place, and it follows the outline of the mikiiwaap (Cree), or tipi (Dakota). The bottom of the skirts would touch the earth's medicines, and as the women walked, "Mother Earth would always know who it was that was making their presence felt on her back" and the prayers were answered accordingly.

After visiting Standing Rock the first time, we decided to donate bolts of calico fabric and spools of ribbon - enough to make over 50 skirts - to help continue this important tradition tied to clothing, women, and expressing strength and sacredness. And, as Myra explained, "We have pride whenever a woman enters our circle, and it is our job as women to help her, if she so desires, and to have extra skirts ready for her."

But not everyone has access to these skirts, so I asked local Turtle Mountain tribal artist and elder Judy Azure to create a small collection of ribbon skirtsBased on the traditional ceremonial ribbon skirts of the Northern Plains Indian Tribes, these skirts are handmade with care and are specifically designed to be fashion-forward versions meant to be worn and appreciated by people of all backgrounds. We featured these beautiful designs in a recent fashion show, and the way that our teens and young adults wore these skirts with great pride and flair was inspiring and exciting.

"Those of us who know the teaching and cherish the ways of the old people, we choose to honor ourselves as women by putting that skirt on, and we know that there's something for our children when they see us being proud of who we are as women, and I think that is the greatest teaching."

The collection of skirts can be viewed at this link, and if the need and support is there, we will continue to add new options. All model images are by Turtle Mountain photographer Jacob Laducer