SHESHEGWANING—Ribbon skirts and ribbon shirts are historical and traditional clothing to honour First Nation heritage, and the models who wore them, highlighted a Sheshegwaning First Nation showcase August 7.
The ribbon skirts and ribbon shirts are considered an expression of history, resilience and character but aren’t necessarily only for ceremonies like pow wows, events and funerals.
“Ribbon skirts and ribbon shirts are really important to our people,” said Elizabeth Laford, main organizer of the event. “Part of the idea for holding this showcase night was to honour all those people who are making them and to show the world there is a lot of talent within our people, to demonstrate that our culture and traditions are alive and well and to encourage people to open their minds about our cultures and traditions.”
As a family well-being worker at the Sheshegwaning Health Centre, Ms. Laford usually helps to organize the annual Aboriginal Day activities on June 21 in the community.
However, “this year we couldn’t hold this ceremony because of the pandemic and we were under a lockdown at the time,” Ms. Laford told The Expositor. “So this year I was looking at something else we could do to encourage and revitalize our culture.”
“I make ribbon skirts, along with some of the other ladies in the community,” said Ms. Laford.
Joey Laford, master of ceremonies at the showcase told those in attendance, “Over time, the design and style of ribbon skirts and ribbon shirts have evolved. Traditionally, ribbon skirts are made to be full length, connecting the wearer to the earth. When women put on their skirt or men put on a ribbon shirt, they are showing (Aakiing) mother earth who they are.”
“The thoughts of modesty, respect, and humility for the wearer continues to be incorporated in the designs,” said Mr. Laford. “You will rarely see a very short ribbon skirt as the thought of a skirt connecting the wearer to mother earth remains prominent and stays alive and the virtue of modesty remains at the forefront of our people.”
Mr. Laford explained, “traditionally, the ribbon skirt provided a protection, an armour, when worn in ceremony. No one is allowed to touch a woman when they wear their skirts in ceremony nor will anyone be allowed to say anything sexual toward them. Several of our elder Sheshegwaning Kweok who designed and sewed their skirts for this occasion did so after receiving a vision in their dreams which gave them the original design for their skirts. Our elders continue to carry that wisdom for our people and their purpose with a vision.”
It was further explained the ribbon skirt/ribbon shirt is almost a declaration of being a survivor of attempted genocide by the residential school system and oppression from colonialism. It signifies a proud, powerful, and resilient people and are often used to highlight social issues.
“We will begin this evenings’ showcase with our children and their unbounded energy, who will be modelling their ribbon shirts and ribbons skirts,” said Mr. Laford. “We will end the evening with the quiet grandeur that is our Sheshegwaning Elder Kweok. Sit back and enjoy the colour and beauty that are our ribbon skirts and ribbon shirts. Chi Miigwech to all the beautiful and handsome ogichita who have volunteered to model for us this evening. We know that you are accepting a personal challenge in putting yourselves out there for all to see. Miigwech for your courage and your willingness to share and become involved.”
“I would be remiss if I did not let you know that Virginia Matheson has volunteered many hours in designing and beading many of the beautiful earrings and several necklaces which are being worn by our models this evening,” said Mr. Laford.
Ms. Laford told the gathering, “I contacted Deborah Pitawanakwat for her model design consultant expertise. She shared her wisdom and experience on the best way to put on this showcase.”
Nicolas Bush managed the music for the evening while Joseph Laford Sr. picked up the staging and assisted with set up, Emily Savage did make-up, while Bethany Shinos and friends provided the videography and still photographs.