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Wear something that shows who you are, says girl behind National Ribbon Skirt Day

For Isabella Kulak, marking National Ribbon Skirt Day means wearing clothing that represents who you are.
Isabella Kulak, then 10 years old, is shown in this undated handout image in Kamsack, Sask., a town about 270 kilometres east of Regina. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Kulak Family

For Isabella Kulak, marking National Ribbon Skirt Day means wearing clothing that represents who you are.

A public outpouring that followed her decision to wear a ribbon skirt to school a little more than two years ago led Parliament to designate Jan. 4 as a day for Canadians to learn more about Indigenous identity and culture.

“We invite everyone to wear their clothing and represent the same message for them to wear something that shows the world who they are,” Kulak said in an interview Tuesday.

“Honour this day.”

Kulak, a member of the Cote First Nation, had decided inDecember 2020to wear a ribbon skirt, a brightly patterned and typically handmade piece of clothing adorned with ribbons, for a formal day at her school in rural Saskatchewan.

Indigenous women wear ribbon skirts as a show of pride and for cultural events. Wearing one makes Kulak “feel proud and strong,” she said Tuesday — “happy and resilient.”

But at the time,Kulak’s family said a staff member at her school remarked that the garment wasn’t considered formal enough.

The school division apologized, but Kulak’s story sparked a movement of Indigenous women posting photos of themselves donning their own ribbon skirts, and led to calls for a national day to be created.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was among those who spoke in support of Kulak. At the time, her family said that many people also sent her ribbon skirts.

Manitoba Sen. Mary Jane McCallum introduced a bill marking Jan. 4 as that day, and it became law late last year after passing both houses of Parliament.

The date was chosen because Jan. 4, 2021 was Kulak’s first day back at her school after the incident.She was walked to the building by relatives wearing ribbon skirts and welcomed into the school with drumming.

Kulak, now 12, says she plans to mark the occasion on Wednesday with a celebration at her home nation, which is planning an event.

“It’s a very inclusive day,” her mother, Lana, said.

“We understand not everybody owns a ribbon skirt or wears a ribbon skirt, but (they can) wear something with pride that represents who they are.”