A 5th grader named Bella decided to wear her traditional ribbon skirt to "Formal Wear Day" at her school in Canada. She was shocked and hurt when an educator aide in her classroom told her that her skirt was inappropriate for formal day and "didn't match."
Ribbon skirts are traditional clothing that honor First Nations heritage and in recent years, are sometimes worn to bring awareness to the plight of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls in Canada. They are considered an expression of history, resilience and character, and are used in ceremonies like powwows, events and funerals. Earlier this year, Rep. Deb Haaland wore a ribbon skirt to President Biden's inauguration. Haaland is a member of the Laguna Pueblo Tribe.
The educator's comment was not only insensitive, but also showed a lack of understanding of indigenous culture. The aide, classroom teacher and school division have all apologized to Bella, and Bella’s father said his family has been invited to help inform the school about First Nations culture and issues, including clothing.
After hearing about what happened, members of Bella's community accompanied her to school all wearing ribbon skirts as a show of solidarity, others held a rally in the town celebrating indigenous culture, and one Native elder created a Facebook campaign where people from all over Canada and the U.S. took pictures of themselves in their ribbon skirts to show their support for Bella.
Rock Your Ribbon Skirt rally for Bella in Vancouver. (Facebook)
“Women today say it’s like armour – it’s protection,” Eunice Ketchemonia-Cote, a great-grandmother on the Keeseekoose Reserve north of Kamsack, told APTN News. “I like wearing my ribbon skirt. I like the way the ribbons flow.”
After hearing about what happened to Bella, Ketchemonia-Cote asked First Nations women to post photos of themselves in their long, colourful skirts on Facebook to support her. Bella was floored by the response. People from all across Canada and the United States posted pictures of themselves in ribbon skirts with the hashtag #ISupportBella. Some supporters even sent Bella ribbons to make more skirts.
“What happened shouldn’t have happened," says Ketchemonia-Cote. "But let’s see something good come of it.”
Bella rocking her ribbon skirt with a warrior pose.
Credit: This video is a clip from the very funny Natives React to Memes YouTube show hosted by Patrick Willie and Jacob Billy. You can watch more of their series "Natives React" at PatrickIsANavajo here: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCmJC-2WmfoQCzwMtK9oC6jQ