A Cultural Celebration at UPEI
As we approach Truth and Reconciliation Day, the University of Prince Edward Island’s Mawi’omi Centre has been actively celebrating a series of vibrant Indigenous cultural events. Among numerous events, the Wabanaki-Wide Sewing Program has been particularly eye-catching, symbolizing the process of healing our wounds through reconciliation.
I was privileged to connect with Indigenous students and staff who were actively involved in this remarkable program. Their stories highlight significant Indigenous craftsmanship, with the Ribbon Skirt standing out in its efforts towards Truth and Reconciliation.
Jessie Lawrence’s Journey: Weaving Heritage and Identity
Jessie Lawrence, a UPEI student majoring in Diversity and Social Justice with a minor in Indigenous Studies, was deeply involved in the sewing program, crafting a Ribbon Skirt. Jessie emphasized the significance of Ribbon Skirts, which are worn at Powwows, and other cultural gatherings. Her colour choice for the skirt – black and red – particularly caught my attention. Jessie shared that these colours spotlight the complexities of Indigenous history and culture. The combination of black and red symbolizes unity and understanding, while also representing the dark past and the blood-stained history of residential schools.
For Jessie, this project was more than just participation; it was a personal journey towards reconciliation. Her enthusiasm throughout the sewing process served as a testament to her rebuilding of cultural identity.
Erin Reid: Exploring Metis Culture through Natural Beadwork
Erin Reid, a member of the Faculty of Indigenous Knowledge, Education, Research, and Applied Studies,
provided insights into the profound symbolism of Ribbon Skirts within Metis culture. She explained that Metis women wear these skirts when gathering medicine—a practice deeply rooted in their heritage.
The beadwork and patterns adorning the skirts represent Metis culture, often referred to as “flowers of
beadwork”, drawing inspiration from the natural world. Erin’s involvement in the program underscores the importance of cultural representation and the revival of traditions deeply embedded in Indigenous identity.
Melissa Peter-Paul: A Mi’kmaq artisan Inspired by Indigenous Craftsmanship
Melissa Peter-Paul, a prominent Mi’kmaq artisan who was serving as a sewing teacher at the event, was thrilled to mentor students throughout the sewing program. She was impressed to see culturally-rich garments crafted by participants, especially the Indigenous youth. Melissa explained that such active participation from the youth fosters a sense of pride as cultural practices are preserved.
Margaret Augustine: Healing Wounds from the Residential Schools
Margaret Augustine, an Assistant Professor at the Faculty of Indigenous Studies, offered a unique perspective on the sewing process itself. She detailed the careful measurements, the gluing of ribbons, and the deeply spiritual act of sewing after cleansing herself with sweet grass, the hair of Mother Earth. Margaret emphasized that such ribbon skirts can’t be sold in markets as they involve deep emotions and spiritual connections during their crafting.
Margaret’s personal connection to the tragic history of abuse and exploitation at residential schools, through her husband’s family, fuels her drive to engage and participate in an attempt to reconcile and heal wounds.
Jasmine Pauzé: Fostering Inclusivity at the Mawiomi Centre
Jasmine Pauzé, the Mawi’omi Centre Coordinator, played a pivotal role in organizing these series of events themed around Truth and Reconciliation Day on-campus. Her inclusive vision extends to ensuring that such events are not just about sewing, but also creating a space for conversation and connection among all members of the UPEI community, whether Indigenous or not. If you didn’t get a chance to attend any of these events hosted by the Mawiomi Centre, there are still two more coming up! There will be a screening of the award-winning movie, “Bones and Crow”, at McDougall Hall (Room 242) on the evening of September 27th, Wednesday. There will also be a small ceremony on Truth and Reconciliation Day, in front of the SDU Main Building.
As we approach Truth and Reconciliation Day, let’s celebrate and heal together in a collective journey – a
journey where where Indigenous cultures are honoured and preserved.
By: Syed Imran