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Thousands share Indigenous ribbon skirt photos in solidarity with Sask. girl

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TORONTO —
Thousands of Indigenous women around the world are sharing photos on social media in solidarity with a 10-year-old Canadian girl who was ridiculed for wearing a traditional ribbon skirt to school last month.

Isabella Kulak from the Cote First Nation attended a “formal day” at Kamsack Comprehensive Institute in Saskatchewan on the final day of class before the holidays. Other girls at the school were wearing what looked like store-bought dresses, she and her parents recounted on CTV News Channel Friday, but Isabella chose to wear one of her traditional, handmade ribbon skirts.

The Indigenous attire, which are often vibrantly coloured and feature ribbon-like patterns, mean many things to different women and are worn on a variety of occasions.

For Isabella, the skirts holds much power. “It represents strength, resilience, cultural identity and womanhood,” she told CTV News Channel on Friday. 

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But in one moment that day, that power was taken from her, when a teaching assistant told Isabella that her skirt didn’t match her dress and wasn’t appropriate for a formal day. They pointed to another girl at the school in a dress suggesting Isabella wear something different next time. The school has since apologized to Isabella and her family.

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When she went home that day, Isabella’s parents Lana and Chris noticed she seemed sad. Later that evening, she opened up to her mother about what happened.

“It really broke my heart and it brought back all kinds of emotions from when I was a little girl,” Lana told CTV News Channel. “I couldn’t believe that it was happening in this day and age to one of my children now. It was very heartbreaking.”

A Facebook group in support of Isabella has grown to more than 5,500 members since Dec. 30. In thousands of images posted to the page, Indigenous women and girls from across Canada and around the globe — from California to England — are seen showing off a variety of ribbon skirts. Some are simple designs, others intricate and floral. Some are playful. One woman posted a photo of her wearing an Edmonton Oilers skirt. Another young girl shared an image of her holding a baby Yoda doll in a matching ribbon skirt.

The incident has inspired a push for a “ribbon skirt day” later this month in the area. Isabella’s parents hope that the difficult moment for the family can turn into a positive lesson for others.

“These old mindsets and these old ways of thinking … people think there’s been a bunch of progress and maybe there has been, but not enough. We can always strive to do better,” said Chris. “I hope that all the support and showing of interest in this story will get people talking in a positive way about what happened and not a negative way so that we can change the course of this discussion that’s been happening for a very long time.”

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The outpouring of support has already been a positive step.

“It felt very nice to know that I have lots of people supporting me around the world,” said Isabella, who has been getting personal messages of encouragement.​ 

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