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RCMP adopts ribbon skirts

Courtesy Royal Canadian Mounted Police

An announcement last week from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) that the ribbon skirt would now be part of official ceremonial uniform incited strong reactions from community members, with mixed views on whether the force should have the right to include traditional items in their uniform. 

The skirt was made an official part of the uniform as a result of work by the Women’s Indigenous Network (WIN) at the RCMP, which was founded three years ago. There are 311 Indigenous regular members (i.e. police officers) and 443 public servant and civilian members within the RCMP who identify women, two-spirit, or non-binary.  

The group had identified a desire to include traditional dress in RCMP ceremonial uniform via consultation with its members. 

“We wanted to express pride in our culture, and we wanted that representation in our uniform as part of our own healing journey as well,” said RCMP sergeant Kelly Willis, who is Cree from Chisasibi. 

Members of the WIN consulted with one another and their own family members and elders in their respective communities, including individuals from every province and territory. Willis said that she and the rest of the WIN concluded that the ribbon skirt was an important step forward in reconciling the harms that the RCMP has perpetuated towards Indigenous people.  

“I myself am a third-generation residential school survivor, and this is the way I choose to heal,” she said. 

The announcement that the RCMP had formally introduced the ribbon skirt, which features satin ribbons in medicine-wheel colours, was initially posted to the national police force’s social media channels without any context about the WIN and its process of developing the skirt.  

“The rollout was something that would have merited some consultation with us. There was no context provided and so all the comments that resulted from it were warranted,” Willis said. “It speaks to how sensitive the subject is and how it’s still very raw. Those comments are something that we as Indigenous women in the organization felt because we’ve lived some of those experiences.” 

Community member Queenie McComber, who designs ribbon skirts, said that she felt uncomfortable with the idea of the RCMP using ribbon skirts in its uniform. 

“For me, I’m not for it at all. Why they would even agree to it is mind-boggling. People forget how they treated our people and looking forward, nothing will ever change,” she said. “Driving them out of town to freeze to death and now asking to put ribbons on a skirt is ridiculous.” 

Fellow Kahnawa’kehró:non Megan Day said she was also hurt to see the ribbon skirt be worn by RCMP members.  

“My grandpa, Jimmy Day, was taken away as a child by the RCMP. He was sent to residential school. He came home; so many children didn’t,” she said. “I feel the RCMP wearing ribbon skirts is just another slap in the face. They should never have been allowed to do this.” 

Willis said that she understands why Indigenous communities remain distrustful of the RCMP, but that she hopes the skirt can be a meaningful step forward for those in the force looking to make change from the inside.  

She said that the skirt is to be worn only by Indigenous employees of the RCMP and is only for ceremonial events. If the skirt is going to be worn at an event where alcohol may be served, such as a gala, wearers are told they are not to consume any alcohol.  

Indigenous employees choosing to wear the skirts are given ribbons and instructions for how to sew the ribbons to the pre-existing RCMP skirts, with the hopes that the process of sewing them on can be culturally significant for the wearer. 

“We had our first Indigenous cadet to graduate in May wearing the ribbon skirt, and she was so proud to be honoured with that,” she said. 

“We’re working from within to change the narrative.” 

evedcable@gmail.com 

This article was originally published in print on May 31 in issue 33.22 of The Eastern Door.

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Eve is a reporter with the Eastern Door. She has also covered harm reduction and social justice issues for the Montreal Gazette, The Breach, Filter Magazine, and more.

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Eve is a reporter with the Eastern Door. She has also covered harm reduction and social justice issues for the Montreal Gazette, The Breach, Filter Magazine, and more.