Several dozen women attended last Saturday’s Ribbon Skirt Workshop hosted by the Bella Vista Inn. Many came armed with fabric, ribbons and sewing machines, ready to dive into the craft. Others came to listen and learn about the tradition, the artistry, and the empowerment associated with the garments.
On hand were the key organizers of the event, Penny Lee, Celeste Leray-Leicht, Carol Brons and Judy Plag, all of whom wore their dresses, made for their attendance at the FSIN Pow Wow held in 2022.
Special guest, Cote First Nation elder and knowledge keeper Judy Pelly, spoke to the gathering. Pelly’s message was important in keeping with the Truth and Reconciliation Committee’s Calls to Action.
“With the Calls to Action, one of the things that has come into fruition is bringing our stories to people who don’t understand,” Pelly explained. “They don’t know the dark history. We’re trying to make things more positive, working with our allies to make it a better place for our children.”
Ribbon skirts came with a powerful message, as Pelly told the tale of her great-niece (granddaughter in the collective family view of the Metis and First Nations cultures). Isabella Kulak, the student from the Cote First Nation, anchored the movement that saw the declaration of National Ribbon Skirt Day on January 4.
Not only are the skirts woven into the proverbial fabric of the Metis culture, they are a means of expression for the designer and wearer. The hosts explained the significance of each of their own creations.
Penny Lee explained that hers bore the infinity symbol for the Metis as well as family birthstone colours and green and gold ribbons to represent Humboldt. Lee was inspired to create the Humboldt event after hearing about a similar workshop in Buffalo Narrows. She told of her heritage, traced back to her grandfather John Peter Pruden, an early trader from Edmonton, Middlesex England, and his bride, Patasegawisk Nancy Pruden. The city of Edmonton bears the name of Pruden’s original home.
Carol Brons’ dress was inspired by her daughter, Dayna, lost in the 2018 Broncos Tragedy. The key theme revolved around the number 5
“Five was her number - everything about her was five. Her names, Dayna Marie Brons, all have five letters. She’s five years, five months and five days younger than her older sister. Her number in sports was 5.” Brons concluded with the fact that Dayna survived five days following the bus crash.
The five motif became the basis for the five butterflies adorning her skirt, the butterflies being symbols of rebirth. Brons also used colours representative of her family's birth months and the green and gold signifying the Humboldt Broncos. She also spoke about the family’s commitment to Hockey Gives Blood, the initiative borne by Stu Middleton and championed by Dayna and the Brons family.
“There is a large need for new donors,” Brons explained. “We need 100,000 new donors every year to replace the people that stop donating. Up to 50 units of blood are needed for an accident victim.”
Hockey Gives Blood is also connected with the stem cell registry, explained Brons, who covered the need for donors as well.
Celeste Leray-Leicht lost her son, Jacob, in the same tragedy. Celeste’s skirt design was inspired by considerations similar to the other women. Her involvement with ribbon skirts followed an inquiry at a pow wow about the protocol of wearing the ceremonial skirt.
“I asked the lady selling them if it was appropriate for me to wear a ribbon skirt as a white person,” recalled Leray-Leicht. After she explained her intent was to be an ally in response to the Calls to Action, the vendor explained, “If you’re an ally and wearing it on special occasions, then absolutely.”
Leray-Leicht also spoke about her family’s initiative, The Northern Light Movement for Kids, and the Great Prairie Race, happening now. Judy Plag followed with similar inspirations for her skirt.
Following the presentations, the women embarked on their own journey of stitching discovery as they visited, connected, and celebrated the learning journey.
Watch for our companion pieces on Judy Pelly and her granddaughter’s inspirational story, along with the latest on the Great Prairie Race. Those are coming up on DiscoverHumboldt.com.