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Connecting to Culture One Thread at a Time

Article and photos by Heather Witherspoon, DTI Faculty

Apr 19, 2024

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The article was originally published in the GDI Communicator Vol. 18 Issue 3, March 2024. The Communicator is a monthly internal newsletter intended to celebrate the achievements of the management and staff of the Gabriel Dumont Institute. You can find the archive of previous issues in the Virtual Museum of Métis History and Culture.

January seemed the perfect time to delve into our Métis past and embrace our cultural connections. The role and impact of the ribbon skirt in showcasing our history and roots has been lost to some. Office Administration Regina students fully embraced learning about how the Métis highlighted their identities through our clothing. Elders Gail Witherspoon and Sandy Briere joined us for a three-day event to discuss our past, and to provide instruction on how the garment is constructed and how to sew a straight line. Students chose their material, ribbons, and styles that embraced and connected them through patterns and colours to their cultural roots.

Métis Nation—Saskatchewan Western Region III provided the use of their social room as our sewing center. Elder Gail (GG) provided 13 pre-threaded sewing machines, so the students were all set to go on the first day. We started the first morning with the students collecting their material, finding a seat with GG, who showed us how we would construct our pieces of clothing, whether skirts or shirts and talking about the fabric and how we would handle it. Then we reviewed the sewing machines, its components, the different items at each student’s station, which ranged from pins to measuring tape to scissors.

We discussed the importance of how clothing is connected to our culture, discussing the relationship that Métis people have with using clothing to represent our culture, including ribbon skirts and shirts. With the Elders, we could share books, ideas, historical pictures, and family stories from times past. This helped the students understand that, YES, Métis women wore ribbon skirts. While the skirts have evolved since the 1800s, at their roots, they remain the same, providing us with the opportunity to express our connections to the land, to our culture, and to ourselves of who we are. Being able to share the importance of our culture with one another helps to bridge the disconnect that many feel about our culture.

By the end of the second and third days, students were confident in their journeys with their creations. They helped each other pin, measure, cut and sew their different items and building that community bond to greater levels. Students were laughing, sharing stories, and talking about taking this newly gained knowledge home to their families, where, hopefully, they can encourage others to be proud of who they are!

Amanda H. states, “The knowledge that I gained taught me that Métis are more than just sashes and jigging and that your skirt is your story and that every skirt is unique and represents each individual journey.”

Sable L. states, “I learned about the meaning of ribbon skirts, who can wear them, and how long our people have been wearing them. We learned how much they have evolved with the styles, patterns, and colours.”

Alysha N. states, “It was interesting to find out that this is a part of our Métis history, and it felt great to participate in something that other Métis women before me have done.”

Taylor L. states, “I am very grateful that I was given the opportunity to create my own ribbon skirt. Doing it with my class, surrounded by my community, made it even more special. I felt a sense of belonging.”

Dumont Technical Institute is currently accepting applications for the Office Administration Certificate program for the fall. Find out more on our website: https://gdins.org/programs-and-courses/what-we-offer/office-administration-regina/

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