Pearl White Quills: Sewing Unity On National Ribbon Skirt Day

Image credit: Ms. Pearl White Quills
Sings Many Different Songs Woman

(Aakoamiyanisttsi’nihkiaki)

Today marks Canada’s second annual National Ribbon Skirt Day, a significant stride toward cultural recognition and celebration. This day holds immense significance for the Indigenous community, shedding light on the beauty and cultural importance of the ribbon skirt. This traditional garment embodies the strength and femininity of Indigenous women nationwide.

At the forefront of this movement is Isabella Kulak, a Cree artist and designer based in Toronto, whose passion for preserving and promoting Indigenous culture led to the establishment of National Ribbon Skirt Day. Ms. Kulak’s journey began several years ago when she faced adversity for wearing her traditional ribbon skirt to school. Undeterred, she transformed this experience into a driving force for change.

Isabella Kulak’s journey took a significant step forward with the passing of Bill S-219 in 2023, officially recognizing the Act Respecting National Ribbon Skirt Day as law. This legislative triumph honours the ribbon skirt and symbolizes a broader acknowledgment of Indigenous culture and heritage.

“Today, we acknowledge the 2nd National Ribbon Skirt Day. The ribbon skirt symbolizes strength, empowerment, and connection to Mother Earth as women. We stand with Isabella Kulak in honouring and celebrating Indigenous culture and pride.” Assembly of First Nations (AFN)

In an interview with Ms. Pearl White Quills, a Siksikaitsitapi – Blackfoot Confederacy woman and founder of Bright Swan Creations, a family business operation out of Calgary, Alberta, she emphasizes the profound meaning behind the ribbon skirt. Ms. White Quills, also known as Sings Many Different Songs Woman, highlights the profound feeling of connecting with her ancestors and being the conduit of change and healing when she puts on a Ribbon skirt, as it represents the essence of Indigenous identity.

“A lot of love and creativity goes into making these skirts. It represents a home fire and who they are as Indigenous peoples,” expresses Ms. Pearl White Quills. She identifies Isabella Kulak as a Phoenix rising from adversity, thanking everyone for supporting small Indigenous businesses. Open to teaching everyone the art of Ribbon Skirt making as it teaches cultural appreciation, not cultural appropriation. Kulak’s message resonated with her, as she understands the history of facing racism. She believes wearing Ribbon Skirts transcends beyond just one day; it’s about wearing them to honour Indigenous community members and events whenever she can to keep the Indigenous culture at the forefront.

The ribbon skirt, adorned with intricate beadwork, quillwork, and various decorative elements, is not merely a piece of clothing. It is a symbol of belonging and cultural pride and a testament to the strength of Indigenous women. Often worn on special occasions such as weddings and powwows, the ribbon skirt carries the weight of generations of tradition and visualizes the rich tapestry of Indigenous culture.

“When Isabella Kulak faced shame for proudly wearing her handmade ribbon skirt to school, she inspired National Ribbon Skirt Day. Every January 4th, we celebrate Indigenous resilience and the preservation of Indigenous cultures and traditions.” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau

Ms. Pearl White Quills expresses the hope for increased awareness within the non-Indigenous community, urging them to be willing to learn about the trauma of colonization and actively engage in the healing process. As she aptly notes, individuals like Isabella Kulak play a crucial role as knowledge keepers, ensuring that Indigenous peoples’ traditions and cultural heritage are not forgotten. In this collective effort, National Ribbon Skirt Day is a powerful reminder of the beauty that defines Indigenous cultures, fostering a shared journey toward understanding and unity.

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