The Ribbon Skirt

Erin Halonen is an Educator and the former First Nations, Métis, Inuit, Curriculum Consultant in the Curriculum Implementation and Resources Branch, Alberta Education. Her passion for Education for Reconciliation and Indigenous Ways of Knowing was born through her lived experience with the local Cree First Nations community. Embedded in her work is deep sense of agency to urge the provincial education system to move forward in reconciliatory understanding and action.  



June 2019, at the kick – off for Indigenous History Month. A Round Dance at the Federal Building in Edmonton, AB. Back Row: Jerome Cabot, Jaime Erasmus-Perley Front Row: Karen Loerke, Lara Ripkens, Carla Badger, Mel Humber, Karen West, Geri Wu, Erin Halonen

Have you noticed women wearing traditional Indigenous ribbon skirts and wondered what they represent? Indigenous protocol, through teachings of humbleness and modesty, require women wear long skirts, and sleeved shirts during ceremony. Ribbon skirts are beautiful, however they are not worn as a fashion statement. There is a deep cultural and traditional significance for wearing them.

Ribbons skirts are a long, handmade skirt that are shaped similarly to the teepee. Traditionally they would have been made from hide and decorated with hand collected natural materials. Materials used for creating ribbon skirts evolved as trade relationships were formed between the Indigenous and settlers. The teachings of the ribbon skirt are passed down through the generations as woman teach their younger relations how to design and sew their own skirts.

The teachings of the ribbon skirt are directly related to Wahkohtowin and kinship (family relations). Relationships are linear in Indigenous culture, not hierarchical as in other worldviews. First Nations believe we are all related to each other and to the natural world around us. This stems from the understanding that we are all original descendants of the land. With this understanding, one can begin to recognize that blood relations are a small piece of the interrelatedness puzzle. Elder Elsie Paul, describes the importance of kinship in Indigenous worldview, and connects this to understanding identity. See the teaching here .

My ribbon skirts were made by my Aunt, Doreen Steinhauer – Collins, from Saddle Lake First Nations. She made them for me as I prepared to support my Indigenous sister through her Sundance Ceremony last July.  In earlier posts I stated that my ethnic background is not Indigenous. My kinship with the Steinhauer family exemplifies Wahkohtowin. They have welcomed me into their family circle and our relationship has developed in reciprocal ways. Doreen shared her teaching about the Ribbon skirt with me, allowing me to share the information with students and colleagues as we move forward in Reconciliation.

Elders teach that the ribbon skirt is worn to remind us of the sacredness of the woman as a life bearer, and to honor the values taught within the teepee or around the home fire. The skirt symbolizes the cyclical nature of life. We wear our skirts to honor the Grandmother’s (female ancestors). These are women who have lived before us, and paved our way. Our skirts unite us as woman who are journeying together in this lifetime, and serve as a reminder that our choices and actions in this moment will impact many generations to come. We have the responsibility of carrying forward the teachings of our ancestors while paving the way for those who follow us. Aunty Doreen teaches that when we wear our ribbon skirts the hem is long and brushes against the healing herbs that grow on the Earth. In this way, our original mother, Mother Earth, recognizes who is walking upon her there. I wear my ribbon skirts with pride, in honor of the woman who have journeyed here before me, in solidarity with my living female relatives, and as a reminder of my responsibility to future generations, and to the earth.


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Be well.


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