This past month I bought a ribbon skirt. A ribbon skirt is worn by indigenous women. It’s a way of showing your indigenous heritage, showing resilience, and some even say it is like putting on armour. It also shows honour to the missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls in Canada. I have heard of people choosing or making a ribbon skirt based on certain colours or an animal, etc. But I didn’t really pick mine. It picked me.
The woman who made the skirt said she didn’t follow a size chart. She just uses the fabric she has and “goes where the spirit moves her”. I bought it at a native craft sale with my mom. My mom had been there earlier and saw the skirts. So when I arrived she picked one out that she thought would fit me. (I’m not as slender as I used to be!) I held it up and said it looks about right. The woman who made it said go ahead and pull it on over your shorts.
It fit perfectly.
While I was admiring it, the woman said oh wait, there is a matching shawl for this one. And she handed me the shawl.
It somehow felt “right” when I put it on. I asked my mom to take a picture and every time I see the picture I see myself in a new light. I see someone strong and capable and … powerful. That’s about the closest word I can think of to describe it. Like a spirit or energy has been ignited. It feels good. It feels right.
The pattern is a celestial one. It has sun bursts and moons and stars. Upon reflection, I realized the importance of each of these symbols in my life.
When my eldest son was born he was a sun baby. He was delivered by Dr Sun. Family brought me sunflowers while I was in the hospital. There was 3 weeks of sun after he was born. A long time to go without rain in late summer. He brightened our lives. He is my sun child.
My youngest is named after a constellation. When my husband first suggested the name I wasn’t sure – but it grew on me. And he is a shining star – he is unique and shines his own light into this world. We wouldn’t be the same without him, exactly as he is.
The moon has become important to me over the years. For one, you can often tell it’s a full moon by the behaviour of kids, pets and teens. I teach secondary school – and my students (and my children) are always a little zanier at the full moon. I can tell it like clockwork. Secondly, the moon goes through phases and is cyclical. Indigenous people call her Grandmother. She has much to teach us. In life we have phases, just as the moon does. It’s a reminder that things will continue, and things will work out as the phases change.
Like the moon, my life has gone through many phases. The last 3 years have been a time of great personal growth. I worked hard in my recovery from anxiety and depression and returned to teaching after several years off. Since then, I have been embracing my Métis heritage more than I did before.
When I was in the process of returning to work, I was assigned to a new school. The courses that were assigned to this position were new courses that no one had taught before – indigenous voices in literature. It was yet another reminder to me that I was in the right place at the right time. At the first training, I identified myself as Métis, the only indigenous teacher there. (Not including the consultant and those leading it) A mentor and friend said “this will be good for Marilyn”. She was right, of course. It has been good for me. I’ve learned right along with my students over the past few years. I’ve learned to work more in an indigenous way than before. I go slower, I take time, I reflect, I engage longer, I listen more. This works against the current education system, which often wants one to cram content in, quantity over quality, churning out productivity. A sign of our colonized society.
Then covid came along and changed how we do everything. Quadmesters don’t allow the time needed to read and digest literature over 5 months. Instead we had 5 weeks. Quality over quantity became more important. Instead of trying to read all the course texts, I narrowed down the reading and we spent more time with the core novel. It was supplemented with short stories and media and various non fiction texts. It’s a different way than I used to teach, even long before covid.
As a teacher I was looking forward to the summer. Then summer came and I had the opportunity to work with my local Métis council and teach a summer camp. I eagerly jumped in, thinking I had lots to teach the kids. I did, but I also learned a lot of things as we worked through the virtual three week camp. I worked with two other amazing Métis teachers. I worked with kids 12 and under, which is a huge change from high school teens. We talked about who the Métis are and where we came from. We talked about art and culture and stories. We learned to dance a jig and sang songs with spoons and cooked traditional foods. We did some artwork – we painted paddles and wooden spoons. We planted bean plants and watched them grow. I watched kids and teachers grow too. I grew.
Now summer is almost halfway done and I am finally taking some time to unwind. This will include the usual time at the beach and time with family. I will also be taking time to read novels for next year and start thinking about my upcoming courses during August. Looking at new ways to do this thing called teaching. New ways to grow students and myself. More ways of embracing myself and who I am as a Métis woman and teacher.
I’m a Métis wife, mother, daughter, friend, teacher, and advocate. I love coffee and squirrels. I married my high school sweetheart and don’t know where I’d be without him. I’m a mama bear to two amazing sons with autism who teach me things every day. I struggle with anxiety and depression. I find joy in the little things in life. I discovered my Métis heritage in my 20s and have been learning about Indigenous traditions and issues since. Life has taken me on many twists and turns I never saw coming. I try to walk the path with Bravery and look to Love.