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St. Joseph's Students Embrace Cultural Identity in Ribbon Skirt Projects

By: Clare Willrodt, St. Joseph's Indian School

St. Joseph - Ribbon Skirts

(Chamberlain, S.D.) – November marked the beginning of a significant cultural identity project for young women at St. Joseph's Indian School. The Mission Integration Department launched its effort to provide a ribbon skirt to every female student in the grade school. At the same time, counselors are helping young women in the high school program to make their own.

At the grade-school level, the first step involved working with seventh- and eighth-grade girls to "vision" a skirt representing their identity on November 9. Choosing bright, vibrant colors, seventh-grader Daphne Boneshirt remarked, "It was fun to pick out fabric and colors to show who I am and express myself in this way." Classmate Aveyon Davis' approach was different. "I chose gray, black, white and blue for my skirt. They're calming colors and will match everything." She said she was given a ribbon skirt before, but this experience is memorable because she has the chance to customize it.

The Mission Integration Department assembles packets of sewing materials and provides them to volunteers from across campus who create the skirts for students.

"Our final stronghold is our sense of identity." – Joseph Marshall III

Family Service Counselors Darcy Belitz and Amanda Hermeling and several staff volunteers hosted a ribbon-skirt-making event on November 20 with female students in the High School Program. The girls arrived with sketches already complete and their favorite color of fabric pre-selected. ShyAnne chose bright red because she is graduating from Chamberlain High School this year, and red is a school color. Larsten picked bright yellow, "like the sun." Another young woman worked on a grey background, and another on turquoise with neon shades of ribbon. The myriad colors spoke to the diversity and strength of the girls' identities.

In North America, Indigenous women have adorned their clothing with ribbons for more than 400 years. Silk ribbons, brought by European traders, inspired this uniquely Native American art form. It reached its peak by the beginning of the 19th century, moving out from the Great Lakes to tribes on the Prairies, Plains and Northeast. More recently, a renewed sense of humbly claiming one's culture is elevating the importance and value of ribbon skirts to affirm indigenous identity.

Students can wear ribbon skirts for any occasion, but always to say, "I belong here, and I claim my identity as an Indigenous person." They can be worn to school, ceremony and church.

More than 220 Native American students in first through twelfth grade find hope and opportunity through our educational, counseling, and residential programs. Strengthened by spirituality and culture, St. Joseph's Indian School transforms lives—mind, body, heart and spirit—every day. Visit us at www.sjiskids.org and www.stjo.org.

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