National Ribbon Skirt Day

By: The Hon. Judy White

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Colourful homes, St Johns, Newfoundland

Hon. Judy A. White: Honourable senators, I rise today to express my happiness that this year marked the first National Ribbon Skirt Day.

January 4 now holds this important commemoration, thanks to the dedication and hard work of my colleagues here at the Senate and the House of Commons who passed Bill S-219 with unanimous consent.

To Senator McCallum, who sponsored the bill, I extend my heartfelt thanks for your dedication to ensuring that we are making Canada a space for all of our cultures.

Ribbon skirts are tremendously significant in the lives of Indigenous women from various groups and nations across this country. They signify the strength and resilience of Indigenous women. Having this symbol of womanhood for Indigenous people nationally recognized is a step in the right direction for the reconciliation of this country. Indigenous women deserve to feel understood and be understood, and I hope to continue these efforts during my time here in the Senate.

Ribbon skirts are often gifted to individuals. They are prepared upon reflection — through prayer — and smudged through ceremony by the crafter. They are gifted to express a multitude of emotions, such as gratitude, congratulations and love.

Personally, I have the honour of holding several ribbon skirts that have been gifted to me for various reasons, at various stages in my life, and they all hold their own special story. My skirt, which I wear today, commemorates strength of our grandmothers — Nukumij, as we say in my Mi’kmaq language — and it has its very own story. It was made and given to me by one of my cousins, who at the time was strengthening her own metal health wellness. She found comfort and solace in making ribbon skirts. She took great pride in every stitch and prayed, and when I wear this skirt, I can actually feel the strength of her prayers for grandmothers everywhere.

In 2018, I was invited by then lieutenant-governor for Newfoundland and Labrador Judy Foote to her inaugural swearing-in ceremony at the province’s House of Assembly. This was not a regular day; not only was it the first time I wore a ribbon skirt to work, it was the first day that we had a land acknowledgment in the provincial legislature. It was also the first time an Indigenous water ceremony was conducted on the floor of the House of Assembly. A water ceremony is specifically tied to women’s responsibilities and spiritual connections to water. It was amazing to be part of a ceremony that maintained the role and importance of the Indigenous women and to share that ceremony with the Newfoundland and Labrador legislature.

Ribbon skirts are now a fashion statement. I am thankful to wear mine today. One day, I hope to make my own ribbon skirt along with my granddaughters, but for today, I am thankful to have the chance to share what this day means to me and celebrate it with you and all Canadians.

Wela’lin, thank you.

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