Many women who attended the Mamawe! Mekowishwewin-miyomachowin gathering earlier this month walked away with a handcrafted ribbon skirt.
In fact, 150 of the skirts were handed out at the gathering.
The ribbon skirts were made by Agnes Woodward, who’s originally from Kawacatoose First Nation, about 115 kilometres north of Regina, but now calls Indiana home.
Woodward was involved in the ceremony when the skirts were handed out to the women at the gathering.
“Being able to be there with the family members as we were giving out the skirts, to shake their hands or give them a hug … I feel like I gained a lot more understanding, compassion, and gratefulness through that little ceremony there,” she said.
Family inspired original design
The skirts were based off of a design that has a close personal meaning to Woodward.
Her aunt, Eleanor (Laney) Ewenin was murdered in 1982. To honour her, Woodward made a skirt with the same design for her mother.
“She said she wanted something that represents her and her sisters, and her sister who was murdered, but also something that brings a feeling of peace,” Woodward said.
The skirt she made for her mother and each skirt handed out at the gathering earlier this month was chock full of symbolism.
Woodward said the red dress has become a symbol of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls and was the main colour of the skirts.
Each of the coloured ribbons at the bottom of the skirts carried a different meaning, too. The purple ribbon for example, represents domestic violence awareness.
Seven women grace each skirt Woodward made: the topmost woman is wearing a red dress and the three women on each side represent Woodward’s mother and her sisters.
“Our story is not unique on Turtle Island, anywhere. All over the U.S. and Canada, people can relate,” Woodward said.
“So [the women on the dress] transforms from my family’s story, to one that the woman in red represents all our missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls and two spirit, and the women on the side represent everything that is sacred and strong about women.”
Once Woodward finished her mother’s skirt, she posted the design on social media.
She started getting requests for similar skirts and with her mother’s permission, she started selling similar skirts across North America.
She said the skirt even made an appearance in the United States Senate. Indigenous Sen. Ruth Buffalo wore the skirt when she spoke on Savanna’s Act, a reform of American law enforcement and justice protocols to address missing and murdered Indigenous women.
Community made skirts possible
She was originally asked to make the skirts last summer. By the time she had gotten the money to make them from the gathering’s organizers, she had about a month to put the intricate skirts together.
In order to complete the task before her, Woodward sacrificed movie nights with her children and attending their sporting events.
“My focus and all my free time was spent sewing,” Woodward said. “My husband, for the last two weeks before I left, was right in my sewing room with me and it was just non-stop.”
She credited her husband and children’s help in the project; she said she wouldn’t have been able to do it without their help.
A grandmother in Standing Rock helped by doing some of the detail work, before sending the skirts back to Woodward, who put the finishing touches on the skirts.
She was still sewing into the events’ first day, before being told by her mother to give it a rest.
“Without community, it just wouldn’t have been possible. I couldn’t have done that on my own in that short amount of time,” Woodward said.