COLD LAKE – The rainy weather didn’t stop a rainbow of colours from walking along the Millennium Trail in Cold Lake over the weekend.
On Sept. 26, members and supporters of the local indigenous community came together for the Lakeland Walk A Mile in a Ribbon Skirt event. Organizer Shaunna Okemow put the event together, bringing her activism closer to home.
“I’ve always had to travel out to the Edmonton area, so I really wanted to have something here in the Lakeland that we could access,” she said. “I wanted something that was indigenous-led and something for our indigenous women, allies, girls, two-spirited people to really come together and just understand the beauty and strength of indigenous women.”
Walk A Mile in a Ribbon Skirt events are meant to highlight the significance of the traditional skirts and help non-indigenous people understand and thwart the prejudices indigenous women experience when they wear the skirts in urban spaces.
Attendee Nadine Majeau came out in her ribbon skirt to raise awareness for indigenous women and children.
“I want to tell people that we’re a loving, inclusive indigenous community. We celebrate our roots, heritage, history, and the strength of women, and the love for our children,” she expressed.
Ribbon skirts are a symbol of resilience, sacredness, and survival in indigenous culture and are typically worn during important ceremonies.
“If there’s any sort of dinners, feasts, or anything like that, it was just protocol that women were required to wear skirts since the very beginning,” noted Okemow.
Lynda Minoose, Cold Lake First Nations Elder added, “It’s just a decoration for a skirt. Some people put different colours in there, which mean different things and it means whatever to each creator of the skirts.”
For Minoose, the ribbon skirt “symbolizes that we’re beautiful and proud of who we are.”
Every colour of the rainbow was represented as the group headed out along the Millennium Trail, where walkers cheered when cars driving by in Hwy. 28 honked in their support. It was that kind of attention that Okemow was hoping for when organizing the event.
“When it comes to stereotypes and any kind of racism that we experience within the area, most of it is from a lack of knowledge and it comes from a place of uncertainty. I think we have to start developing more empathy and that curiosity of why things are the way that they are and letting indigenous people write the narrative for themselves.”
She added, “We wanted to give indigenous people a space. So really taking traditional teaching and putting it into a more contemporary lens and just that sort of solidarity as all of us indigenous women coming together right beside the highway. People are asking those questions of ‘I wonder what’s going on there?’ because that’s what we’re really hoping to do is start that discussion and build that awareness of what indigenous history is here in Canada, what changes are to be made, and that partnership with other allies and people in Cold Lake and working together.”