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Ribbon skirt workshop proving to be popular at Kenora, Ont., high school

High school students’ activities can extend to any of their interests. From school sports to photography to music, there is opportunity for everyone.

At St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Kenora, Ontario, they can add ribbon skirt making to that list.

Every Thursday during the lunch hour, students head to the library to take part in ribbon skirt workshops facilitated by community members Daniel Cacoy, Mel Skid, and Amy Skid.

Students learn how to cut fabric, sew, and place ribbons

They taught the students how to cut the fabric, sew, and place the ribbons, and showed them how to make their own ribbon skirt.

Morgan Smolak, the First Nation liaison officer for the Kenora Catholic District School Board, said the idea for the workshops came back in May when she was talking with a colleague about how to increase First Nation student participation.

They thought of some ideas and fell on the ribbon skirts, and brought in their First Nation Education Coordinator, their Mtesi and Inuit Education Coordinator and Kabir in Residence to seek their advice and guidance.

A student irons a cloth during a ribbon skirt workshop. (Provided by the Kenora Catholic District School Board)

“They pointed us in the direction of some community members who would be willing to work with our students, and things kind of started from there,” Smolak said.

Smolak said the response to the workshops has been fantastic and the students seem to be really enjoying themselves, to the point that more students attended than originally registered.

She says these workshops are important because they want to make sure First Nation students are welcome and included.

Workshops are important to make sure students feel welcome

“The ribbon skirts are just an empowering symbol for women. We do a lot of holidays and programs here where they can wear the ribbon skirts, so we thought it would be nice if they could make one that they could wear.”

Ribbon skirt workshops were popular, showing students who had not even registered for it. (Provided by the Kenora Catholic District School Board)

To help facilitate these workshops, Daniel Cacoy. When asked, Kakuai said she was totally prepared for it, and told them she would have to take her baby along with the workshops she did.

For Kakeway, the opportunity to help teach these students to make ribbon skirts and help the school support these initiatives is truly emotional and moving.

“It touches me because I wasn’t created with my culture and identity, so it’s cool,” Kakuai said, crying.

“We work for a positive relationship and ensure our students, our First Nations students, that the schools are supportive… they support our cultures and traditions. So, yeah, it’s really cool.”

The workshops were planned after a conversation about how to increase the participation of First Nation students. (Provided by the Kenora Catholic District School Board)

Kakuai said she is happy to be part of these workshops and to share her knowledge, experience and how she got started.

Smolak said there are plans to continue these workshops into the new year, and they’re looking forward to making the ribbon shirt and possibly decoration for upcoming projects.

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