RCMP alters dress code to add indigenous ribbon skirts to ceremonial uniforms

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A skirt that symbolizes reclaiming Indigenous identity is now part of the official RCMP uniform. An example of a ribbon skirt is shown in an undated image posted to RCMP Commissioner Mike Duheme’s account on the social media site X.HO/Canadian Press

The RCMP has modified its dress code to include Indigenous ribbon skirts, making the garment available as part of official ceremonial uniforms for First Nations officers who choose to wear it.

Several critics on social media and elsewhere responded to the announcement by accusing the RCMP of adopting impractical police attire or saying the attire is inconsistent with the police force’s colonialist history that caused great harm to Indigenous people.

RCMP Commissioner Mike Duheme said in a post on X that the gesture “demonstrates the RCMP’s values ​​of reconciliation.”

Ribbon skirts were among the indigenous cultural practices banned by the government under the Indian Act in the 19th century. According to the Canadian Center for Diversity and Inclusion, ribbon skirts were made by First Nations and Métis women who used brightly colored ribbons and embroidery patterns to embellish and express their cultural identities on the broadcloth skirts brought by settlers. Europeans.

A senior member of the RCMP told The Globe and Mail that the idea for the skirt came from Indigenous women who serve within the 20,000-officer force.

“I see it as part of reconciliation,” said Alberta RCMP Inspector Kim Mueller, who is Cree and works in First Nations policing.

She said it was “ugly and disappointing” to see the backlash to the ribbon skirt. “This project was led 100 per cent by Indigenous women within the RCMP, and it’s something we’ve been coming together and fighting for for a couple of years.”

In sp. Mueller said the RCMP’s latest decision to alter its dress code is no different from other previous attempts by the force to be more inclusive.

“Skirts are very important in indigenous cultures,” she said. “Am I, as an indigenous policewoman, going to fight crime and arrest people in ribbon skirts? Absolutely not.”

National Ribbon Skirt Day was celebrated for the first time in 2023, thanks to a law passed by Parliament the previous year. She was inspired by 11-year-old Isabella Kulak, a girl from Saskatchewan who was shamed at her school when she was told that her handmade ribbon skirt didn’t count as formal wear.

On Thursday night, the RCMP released a statement about how and why it altered the dress code, saying the initiative was led by a group representing more than 300 Indigenous members of the RCMP.

“Traditionally, the Ribbon skirt is a symbol of resilience, survival, identity and hope,” said the statement, distributed by Robin Percival, spokesperson for RCMP headquarters. The initiative underwent extensive consultation within and outside the force, according to the statement.

He said the ribbon skirt was approved at headquarters earlier this year and will be worn primarily on ceremonial occasions, to replace the long blue skirts traditionally worn by mounted women.

“The ribbon skirt is available to both active and retired Indigenous members,” the RCMP statement said.

Other police forces in Canada allow their officers to wear ribbon skirts.

In his social media post, Commissioner Duheme said the RCMP had previously allowed its Indigenous officers to wear other items, such as the Métis sash.

The RCMP, Canada’s largest police force, was created a century and a half ago and retains key roles in policing First Nations and Inuit communities outside of Ontario and Quebec. Its current workforce is approximately 7 percent indigenous. But several recent public investigations have highlighted how force has historically played a brutal role in implementing government policies that aimed to suppress or eliminate indigenous cultures.

Earlier this year, Auditor General Karen Hogan released a report noting that Mounties are failing to make inroads into many Indigenous communities that still rely on the RCMP for public safety.

“I’m not going to sugarcoat or try to downplay our role in the residential school system and what happened there,” Insp. Müller said.

But he said he feels a great responsibility to try to ensure the Mounties better protect Indigenous communities.

“We need to reconcile and come back together as a community,” he said. “Keeping First Nations and Métis communities safe in Canada is literally one of our top five national priorities.”

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