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Standard-Issue Ribbon Skirt

A few weeks ago, while scrolling through my TikTok feed, I came across a ​post​ discussing Ribbon Skirts and their integration into the RCMP uniform. A Ribbon Skirt is considered a sacred cultural item, symbolizing resilience and survival, and offering a connection to kinship for its wearer. On May 1, 2024, the Commissioner of the RCMP ​announced the inclusion of an RCMP-issued Ribbon Skirt​ as "an Indigenous cultural item of honour and distinction to be worn by Indigenous Regular Members as part of the uniform.” This decision sparked a polarizing conversation in the media that captured my attention.

As a child, I was enamored by the prestige of the RCMP. My maternal grandfather was a member (retired before I was born) and part of the ​First Provost​—a group of RCMP who volunteered to go overseas as the Military Police of the First Canadian Infantry during the Second World War. Growing up, I wanted to wear that red serge, just like my grandpa did. Although I didn't end up wearing one myself, I did marry a man who became a member. We spent almost seventeen years traversing four postings and three provinces. He shielded me from a lot, and still, I saw the heart and the heartache up close. I know there are great people serving in the RCMP. I also know that there are problems within the organization.

Over the past ten years, as I've been on my unlearning journey, I have become more familiar with the challenging relationship between the RCMP and Indigenous people. The history of child apprehensions, the disruption of families, and the intentional, systemic disempowerment of peoples and communities are not just histories, but firsthand accounts shared with me by people I care very much about. I see the pain in their eyes when they share their stories. They are unfathomable. These are pieces I am reconciling.

So, when I saw the TikTok discussing the integration of Ribbon Skirts (and Métis sashes and eagle feathers), a singular thought pierced my brain: how absolutely tone-deaf. I shared the reel within our Culturally Committed Members forum to get a sense of what other folks thought, and it seemed the consensus was the same. What on earth were the RCMP thinking?

Then, I saw a post shared by a person I respect very much: Qwuy'um'aat (Eyvette) Elliott of Quw'utsun. Qwuy'um'aat wrote a post in response to an article written by a media outlet I have great respect for, ​IndigiNews​. Her position was a check I realized I needed, and she gave me permission to share her words with you today.

"I am extremely disheartened by the lack of support.

I am seeing comments and posts on other social media channels, those of Indigenous women serving, their families, and members of other forces, confused by the lack of support.

I commend organizations, individuals, and communities who take big leaps towards reconciliation and inclusion, because in most cases they are demonstrative of many meetings, conversations, and dialogues. Anything in reconciliation is approached with hesitance, caution, and in most cases resistance.

In my work, when the first National Ribbon Skirt Day came into effect, our Indigenous Employee Resource Group briefly questioned how we can make our Indigenous clothing more accepted in the workplace. We recognized the big task ahead and we only moved forward with educational campaigns.

As a professional working in ‘reconciliation,’ I am always cautioned on how I can best move forward. Many of my great ideas are stopped, not because of organizations or my supervisors, but my own internal compass, wondering if I am working in stride with the community and wondering if I would ‘disappoint’ or shock the community.

Where I’m from, we recognize the importance of living in a good way and walking a good path. Using Indigenous languages, names, and clothing for me is a reminder of why I am doing this work. It is too easy to get caught up in the systems in which we work and sometimes even wonder if we are living and working in an Indigenous way.

Supporting and encouraging our Indigenous sisters to wear their skirts without a doubt is a small task, but as I always say, it is unlikely we will undo 150 years of colonization and rebuild the house tomorrow. In the meantime, let’s break down the door, plant seeds of hope for the next generation, and keep moving forward. This is simply a pathway and stepping stone in the direction we want to go. Reconciliation is a journey and not one act, event, or person. It is a system and a process, flowing like a river or climbing the mountain.

Reconciliation is not easy. The true work is often not ‘pretty,’ but it does not mean we should not celebrate the small successes along the way. Our people also deserve to celebrate and be acknowledged for their wins."

Qwuy'um'aat's words remind me of my position as a settler and the complexities inherent in reconciliation. These issues are multifaceted and deeply rooted in history, making the journey toward reconciliation neither straightforward nor quick. My role is to do what I can to support moving the work ahead. It is not my place to have opinions on things related to culture, regalia, or when and where they should be worn. This is generational work, and it will be imperfectly pursued.

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