Taking back the power of a ribbon skirt
- Andrea Ledding | November 03, 2017
Tala Tootoosis has overcome a lot in her life, from addictions to assaults, and now works as an Indigenous social worker and motivational speaker, as well as spoken word artist and ribbon skirt maker.
“When my father passed away this year, I felt like I didn’t know how to make myself feel better again,” said Tootoosis at a recent ribbon skirt walk, noting that it was people from the streets that came to her and encouraged her. “They said to me, please don’t give up. They said when we sober up we want someone who got off drugs like us and is doing better — we don’t know anyone like that who doesn’t judge us. You have to keep going. When we want to get better, you’re our window. We don’t see any other way, we need people like that, please don’t give up.”
Her uncle also encouraged the family at her father’s funeral, saying he had been a leader who served his people.
She believes that it’s important to accept people who are trying to find their way back to cultural and ceremonial ways, and to stop the shaming and judgement that she associates with a colonial mindset. This includes what she terms skirt-shaming for women who are trying to find their way back to culture and blockading their access. “People’s journey is with Creator...so many times when I was going to school I didn’t have a skirt and I would just grab a blanket or pillow to cover my legs so I could be there.”
She has since gone on to teach other women and children to make their own skirts.
“There are many women here in this crowd today who are sober and have their degrees,” noted Tootoosis, contrasting that with the bleak realities that the media often portrays. “Always remember how powerful we are. They tried to murder us, they tried to commit genocide. We’re going to school, we’re sober, we’re taking care of our kids, we’re beading, we’re making these skirts.”
She wears and makes the ribbon skirts to centre herself in her culture.
“It’s more than just a skirt, it’s protection. It’s me saying I can create life and I’m sacred so I’m powerful so no, you can’t touch me.”
She makes ribbon skirts for others, and recently led a ribbon skirt workshop presentation at Frances Morrison Library. On October 5th, she was awarded the Angeline Roberts Memorial award at the Golden Eagle Awards on her mother’s home reserve of Sturgeon Lake. She continues to raise her children in Saskatoon while working, and has created a social media campaign to raise awareness around missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. The campaign focuses around posting a picture with a kohkum scarf and citing two facts about MMIWG2S.
“I wanted to raise awareness and maybe even create prevention — that young girls would learn not to walk or take cabs alone, for example.”
She will be giving out a ribbon skirt and some beadwork to one lucky winner.