One year ago, a young Anishinaabe girl from Treaty 4 territory in Saskatchewan sparked an international movement, simply by wearing her ribbon skirt to school.
That movement continued this week when Bella Kulak marked the first annual National Ribbon Skirt Day.
Hundreds of people gathered in Kamsack, 270 km east of Regina, on Jan. 4 to walk Kulak to school following the holiday break.
The 11-year-old inspired thousands of people to wear their ribbon skirts and ribbon shirts with pride after she was shamed by a school staff member for wearing her ribbon skirt to a formal school event in December 2020.
The incident went viral on social media after relatives posted about it.
Her mother, Lana Kulak, said what happened affected more than just Bella.
“It could be just the slip of the tongue and you don’t realize how many people you can hurt by just saying something that may be little to you,” she said.
“But then it hurts the child, then it hurts the parents, and then it hurts the grandparents, and affects the entire community.”
The colourful skirts and shirts are a symbol of resilience, sacredness and survival; they are commonly worn to ceremonies and other special events.
After the story went viral, the school district apologized and spoke to the Kulaks and the staff member involved.
Since then, some positive things have come about at the local level: Lana now works in the Good Spirit School Divison as an Indigenous Community Worker. She said the schools now offer Indigenous drum groups, ribbon skirt-making classes, beading and language basics.
Bella has received gifts from supporters, like the sewing machine she used to make her first ribbon skirt that she wore to a ceremony in the Kamsack Collegiate Institute gym.
Chiefs, elders and knowledge keepers were there, along with students, to show their support for Bella.
Her mother said Bella discovered supporters across North America after doing a Google search of her name.
She was “blown away” by a post she saw from an elementary school in Winnipeg.
“They actually drew a very detailed picture of Bella in her ribbon skirt and they coloured and created however they wanted to,” Lana said.
A Facebook support page for Bella has nearly 8,000 members from around the world, and yesterday dozens posted pictures of themselves wearing their ribbon skirts in solidarity.