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Lakehead University students connect with Indigenous culture and community through ribbon skirt-making

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Indigenous artist Mary Magiskan, centre, helps one of the students with their ribbon skirt during the Lakehead University Indigenous Student Services Centre’s Ribbon Skirt Making Workshop on Nov. 18 at the Gakina Nindinawemaaganag Lounge.

By Rick Garrick

THUNDER BAY — Lakehead University’s Indigenous Student Services Centre held a Ribbon Skirt Making Workshop for students on Nov. 18 at the Gakina Nindinawemaaganag Lounge at the Thunder Bay campus.

“We form partnerships with local artisans and others to host workshops like this Ribbon Skirt Making Workshop so that the students are connecting with their culture, but they’re also connecting with the local Indigenous community,” says Yolanda Twance, coordinator of the Indigenous Student Services Centre at Lakehead University and Netmizaaggamig Nishnaabeg citizen. “The way the economy is right now, students don’t have a lot of opportunity especially to own a ribbon skirt because there’s costs associated with it so when we’re able to provide that for students we’re helping them to celebrate their culture.”

Twance says it was “awesome” to be able to help the students to create their own ribbon skirts during the workshop. The students were provided with all of the materials for the ribbon skirts.

“With post-secondary funding, it doesn’t even cover your living expenses,++ so how can you even entertain thoughts of having something as beautiful as a ribbon skirt to show your pride?” Twance says.

Mary Magiskan, an Indigenous artist and Aroland citizen who delivered the workshop, says two of the students completed their ribbon skirts during the workshop and the others will gather again to complete their ribbon skirts.

“It was a good class, I’m excited for these girls to rock their ribbon skirts and I had fun,” Magiskan says. “We’re going to gather again and finish it up and rock our skirts after.”

Magiskan says the students chose their own fabric and ribbons for their ribbon skirts.

“We put in pockets on our ribbon skirts,” Magiskan says. “It’s very important to have pockets because lots of people are carrying stuff, and especially their phone.”

Magiskan says she first began making ribbon skirts about 15 years ago after a how-to at a local community regalia making workshop.

“The teacher at the time was Lisa Gustafson,” Magiskan says. “Ever since I met her there, she kind of took me under her wing and taught me everything she knew.”

Karen Young, a second-year Sociology student who completed her ribbon skirt, says she enjoyed the workshop.

“What I learned from it was being patient; patience is a big thing for me,” Young says. “I chose the material because it reminds me of the artist Christi (Belcourt) — it looks like beaded material made with beads.”

Selena Hayes, a first-year Nursing student who also completed her ribbon skirt, says the workshop was “very fun.”

“We all got to learn a little bit about each other and because it was a small group, I think it was better where we were more comfortable just to talk to each other without it being awkward,” Hayes says. “I’m hoping that I can teach my friends.”

Rebecca Cowboy, a second-year Indigenous Learning student, says the workshop was a learning experience.

“Every step was unique and it’s fun,” Cowboy says. “It’s therapeutic, really good. Hopefully I finish at the next session.”

Samantha McCormick, a third-year Concurrent Education student, says she enjoyed the beginning teaching of how the ribbon skirt represents the circle of life during the workshop.

“I also enjoyed sewing on the ribbons even though I didn’t finish,” McCormick says. “I liked picking out the colours. [For] two of them, I just really liked the colours … and then I chose the other colours based on the colours inside of the skirt [fabric].”

Coral Pitre, a second-year Social Work student, says she previously met Magiskan during one of her classes.

“She helped us out with a moose hide,” Pitre says. “So I really enjoyed her company and everyone else just seemed so fun, we were all cheering each other on.”

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