By Chevi Rabbit, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
(ANNews) – Walk a Mile in a Ribbon Skirt is a grassroots movement to educate Canadians on the cultural significance of Indigenous and two spirit women wearing ribbon skirts; it is having a positive impact in Alberta. This year marks the second annual Walk a Mile in a Ribbon Skirt – highlighting the beauty, resilience, and female empowerment in wearing ribbon skirts.
In addition to their own event this fall, the group participated in the annual Kingsway Parade in Edmonton on Nov 28. They joined other prominent organizations such as the Edmonton Oilers, Edmonton Elks and Edmonton Police Organization. Kingsway Holiday Parade loved the idea of including the group in this year’s celebration.
The Walk a Mile in a Ribbon Skirt group is made of a rotating group of women and gender diverse folxs who support the cause such as Samson Cree Nation Councilwoman Katherine Swampy, Stolen Brothers and Sisters Movement founder and community organizers April Eve P. Wiberg, Teen Activist Ceejay Currie, Rachel Manichoose, Jacqueline Buffalo and myself (ANNews writer Chevi Rabbit).
Each year we change things up based on the availability of organizers and volunteers. Yours truly (reporter Chevi Rabbit) and teen activist Ceejay Currie, a resident of Montana Cree but has membership with Sunchild Cree Nation, came up with the original idea of “Walk a Mile in a Ribbon Skirt” and we further developed the idea with April Eve P. Wiberg and Katherine Swampy.
Here are a few statements from women who continue to be involved in the overall development of Walk a Mile in a Ribbon Skirt.
Ceejay Currie, co-founder of Walk a Mile in A Ribbon Skirt and teen activist said, “Back in 2020, I wanted to educate others on the beauty and resilience of ribbon skirts. I didn’t like that my family members experienced racism in Edmonton. My aunt asked for ideas on what we should do about it. We brainstormed ideas and thought of ways to make sure everyone is included. We came up with “Walk a Mile in a Ribbon Skirt” and then chatted about how to make it a community event in Edmonton with other ladies.”
“My Ribbon Skirt was made to honour my late mother and female family members. It’s called a three-generation dress. It has images of women in braids that represent myself, my late mother and my grandmother.”
Currie explained, “I’m working on my anxiety issues but I love coming up with neat ideas for my aunty and she will join them into events, fashion shows and social causes. Anxiety is a huge issue for people my age. I think having role models who show us that we can overcome our shyness and do things we didn’t know we could, is needed. We also need to be more supportive of each other.”
“In the new year, I have lots of ideas for “Walk a Mile In a Ribbon Skirt” and I hope more will join the cause – together we can be the voice of the future,” concluded Currie.
Katherine Swampy is a co-organizer and fellow founder of “Walk a Mile in a Ribbon Skirt.” She said, “It’s about visible inclusion. The ribbon skirts are considered traditional attire, but with Indigenous Pride and people feeling more comfortable with their identity they want to wear ribbon skirts casually as well. And I too wear them casually.”
She explained, “I believe that my ribbon skirt represents respect, protection, and it’s like my ancestors walk with me when I wear them. For the last few centuries Indigenous people have been oppressed and denied their identity, with the recent exposure of genocide from residential schools, 60’s scoop, and systematic racism towards Indigenous people, they are feeling confident and reclaiming their heritage.”
Swampy further noted, “With the youth learning what their parents and grandparents were denied, many are learning the languages, traditions, ceremonies, and with that they are also wearing ribbon skirts. Many are far fancier than the ribbon skirts of the past, as Indigenous designers are adding beautiful applications. These ribbon skirts are not just beautiful but are a visual representation of acceptance and inclusion into society that has been denied to them for a very long time.”
April Eve P. Wiberg Founder of Stolen Sisters & Brothers Action Movement (SSBAM) and a co-organizer of Walk a Mile in A Ribbon Skirt said, “Since the inception of Walk a Mile in a Ribbon Skirt in 2020, I have been very blessed and grateful to have been asked to help organize, support, promote, and educate on ribbon skirt awareness and what it means for me to wear a ribbon skirt.”
She explained. “This is more than an event, it’s a ceremony and holds deep meaning to many people including our Indigenous men and boys who proudly wear their ribbon shirts. I didn’t always wear a ribbon skirt nor did I feel I had the right to adorn one.”
“Like many Indigenous people, I grew up in a Caucasian dominated society and my mother, an Indian residential school survivor, was not brought up with traditional teachings and ways of doing as she lost her own mother at a very young age and was taken away to be assimilated into settler ways. I was also sexually exploited as a youth and young adult; I felt I was tarnished and not “pure” enough nor did I have the traditional upbringing to wear a ribbon skirt.”
Wiberg further noted, “In 2014, a fellow grassroots MMEIP (Missing or Murdered and Exploited Indigenous Peoples) family member, survivor and advocate made and gave me my first ribbon skirt. It was during the Edmonton Sisters in Spirit Walk and Vigil that we had organized. I was so overcome with love and gratitude to have received one as I felt that I had been accepted into the community. Although I am still humbled and honoured to have received this precious gift, I am aware of those in our community that do not have and do not share the same access, support, and privilege that I do to our traditional ways.”
“My goal is to continue supporting Walk a Mile in a Ribbon Skirt, watch it grow as we find ways to help support those in our community who would like to learn more about ribbon skirt/shirts and help them find ways to use and even design and create one of their own,” concluded Wiberg. “My dream is for this type of awareness to help dismantle the systemic racism against Indigenous people and build a society that is healing and rebuilding from colonialism as well as a safer society for all people, regardless of age, gender identity, race, culture, or faith.”
As a writer for Alberta Native News and a community advocate I am honoured to be part of Walk a Mile in A Ribbon Skirt but I see my role as a support of youth and women who have not had the privilege to participate in Cree culture. I grew up in a loving community rich in culture. My idea is to advance women and two spirit identity in all my community initiatives. I would also like to announce through Alberta Native News that the city of Edmonton plans to work with our group of ladies and two spirits of “Walk a Mile in a Ribbon Skirt” in the new year. Thank you all for allowing me to create ideas that empower our communities in an inclusive way and the ability to share with you all through Alberta Native News.