Ribbon skirt workshop in Winnipeg helps pass on Indigenous tradition

A ribbon skirt-making workshop in Winnipeg this weekend gave some participants a chance to learn about Indigenous culture while giving others an opportunity to connect with their roots. 

Fifteen participants came out to the workshop hosted by cultural organization Mentoring Artists for Women’s Art (MAWA) where they got to learn the art of ribbon skirt making from Cree elders Gloria Buboire and Sharon Pelletier. 

For Delaney Litowitz, it was a deeply meaningful experience to be able to make one for the first time and learn about a traditional practice that wasn’t passed down through her family. 

Litowitz said her grandmother was Ojibway but died when her mother was very young before she could teach her daughter. 

A woman sits at a sewing machine working on a colourful piece of clothing.
Delayne Litowitz (centre) participated in the ribbon skirt-making workshop this weekend. She said it was the first time she was able to make one. (Catherine Moreau/CBC)

“I think it’s just a sense of belonging,” she said. 

“it just means a lot to us. MAWA’s taught us a lot of traditional practices that would have gone, that we wouldn’t have learned or have known of so it just means a lot being able to create this.” 

She plans to wear her creation during ceremonies this summer. 

Diane Martineau volunteered to help at the workshop after learning to make ribbon skirts two years ago to get in touch with her origins.

She said she grew up not knowing she was Métis and only found out when she was in her forties because her grandparents kept it a secret out of fear of racism. 

Making ribbon skirts now is a way to reclaim that history and culture, she said, adding that she finds it encouraging to see more people wearing them and learning how to make them. 

“It’s an acknowledgement to the Indigenous [people] that ribbon skirts and that part of that culture is okay.” 

Two women stand and talk at an ironing board, while the woman on the right irons a piece of clothing.
Diane Martineau (in yellow, left) volunteered at the workshop to help pass along the tradition. (Catherine Moreau/CBC)

Like Martineau, Buboire said she didn’t learn about her culture until later in life. 

“When I was little, there were no ribbon skirts, because everything back then, there was nothing cultural.” 

She made her first ribbon skirts for her sister to wear to a sundance ceremony, and later made ribbon skirts for herself and her wedding party in the 1990s. 

A woman shows a photo on her phone from a wedding.
Gloria Buboire shows a photo from her wedding where she made ribbon skirts for members of her wedding party. (Catherine Moreau/CBC)

The length of ribbon skirts is normally between below the knee and ankle, but there are few rules governing their construction, Buboire said. The colors of the ribbons can represent a nation or simply enhance the pattern of the skirt.

“I guess it’s just the journey that you’re on and what you’ve gone through and where you’re going,” she said. 

Buboire said she was encouraged by the diversity of participants in the workshop and their enthusiasm. 

“Like in ceremonies in sundance, anyone can come, can participate. It’s just your desire to learn,” she said. 

“It’s just good to have different people in there learning about our culture.”