Oh the shame of the skirt!

I haven’t written in my blog for a while but life has been ever intruding into the abnormal way I do things (rarely do I do things normally).  Inside my brain there were and still are many things I want to write about so I thought it best to at least attempt to put them down into my blog on a regular basis if only to give my brain some room for other things.

Recently a friend asked me my thoughts on the topic of “skirt shaming” in Anishinaabe country as an article that was written by Drew Hayden Taylor had made its way onto Facebook.  It was then accompanied by a response from an Anishinaabe womyn berating a man (Drew) for talking about teachings that only a womyn should speak of.  Well, I guess that means I can talk about this issue as I am a womyn (mind you I think #DrewHaydenTaylor did a good job)  although I must apologize to my chum for the late timing in my response to her question (my apologizes chum). So you may choose to get pissed off with what I write or agree with what I know, however it really doesn’t matter what way you go as it is my understanding of the issue and not yours.

Yet the wonderful thing about teachings is that you may disagree with what I say but something may sit with you and you take that into what you understand and the teaching becomes yours.  If we can agree to disagree and go about being the same people we are that would be good; however from experience I know I will cause a stir among the “traditional” people and will be called down because of my understandings.  In order to get past that, please let me stop you right there if you are one of those “traditional” people whose sense of being is tied up in that “classification of traditional” as I pose this question to you; “if you are “traditional” (our teachings talk of compassion and respect for all) then why would you call down someone for having a different view or understanding? 

It baffles me that this happens yet at the same time I am not surprised.  Oppression is such a trickster that it tricks our own people into believing that it is okay to put others down. That colonial cloak of oppression engulfs us in classifications that were never ours to begin with.  At this point  I am reminded of those who profess to be “good Christians” yet will walk away from someone in need because they “should get off their ass and get a job like all those who are privileged do”. Yep I am about to ruffle feathers so maybe you shouldn’t read any further.

And to make it perfectly clear (if we are going with the classification of “traditional”) I am a traditional womyn.  I have many teachings which, by the way, I share.  I was raised by a good many grandmothers, uncles, aunties and my parents who imparted their teachings within me.  I attend ceremonies, drum and sing, fast, dance at pow wows as a jingle dress dancer, and I am slowly learning my language that I once had.  I take only what I need and no more, give back to my community and live bimaadziwin (a good life).  I don’t just say I live it, I do it.  So now that we have established whether or not I am a traditional person and can speak on the issue of “skirt shaming”, I will go ahead and do so.

My greatest teachings on “the skirt” came from Anishinaabe men whom I respect and carry a great many teachings; yes men.  And the teachings didn’t come as a way of being told, they came in the form of questions such as “why do you have to wear a skirt to be recognized in ceremony as a womyn?” Do you not believe the Creator knew you were a womyn the moment you asked to come to the world to be born? And what the hell does the teepee have to do with womyns’ skirts?”  Interesting questions the men posed that led me on a journey of teachings that spanned over years.

So what does it all mean?  I was not born with a skirt.  I am female the last time I checked and let it be known that the doctor told my mother the moment I came out of her that I was a girl; no skirt was found on my body. So was I not a female because I did not have a skirt? No I am very much a female.  As Beings from the sky, we ask to come down to Earth (ska-gamik kwe) to experience what life is like, to feel pain, sorrow, sadness, joy, etc.  In the sky world we choose those who are to be our parents and who will teach us what we need to know.  We also know our gender before we are conceived.  If, in asking the Creator in the spirit world to be born a female, why would we need a skirt for the Creator to recognize that we are female upon Ska-Gamik kwe? It makes no sense and doesn’t follow our Creation stories.  There goes the first teaching that is told to us about the wearing a skirt so the Creator knows we are female, although it rings falsely throughout the other reasons we are told as womyn to wear skirts.

So we are to wear a skirt because it resembles a tee-pee and good energy is then created and our prayers can better reach the Creator through this skirt that resembles a tee pee.  Ok, let me stop and say I am Ojibway and my lodge, if we are to follow the teaching of the skirt resembling a lodge, is the shape of a half circle.  How the heck can I wear a skirt that resembles my lodge and still walk around? I can’t; this is preposterous!  Which leads me to the teaching that we wore skirts because we needed to carry our berries in something.  Really? Really? Come on! We had utensils; I know we had birch bark bowls and baskets.  We were not savages who couldn’t figure out how to carry berries unless we had to have a skirt on!  Ugggh!  And get this; womyn hunted. Yes, that is what I said.  We didn’t hunt in skirts let me tell you; skirts tend to get stuck in the bushes and were very cumbersome to get around in.  I don’t know how many times I have tripped or stepped on my skirt (this usually ends up with my skirt falling off my butt).  Look back on what the history tells you and you will see our womyn weren’t fully dressed when the Europeans came across and “found us”.  Some of us didn’t wear tops and our bottoms were pants.  Yes. So then, where does the false thought that Anishinaabe womyn were wearing skirts long before contact actually come from?

Let me enlighten you.  Way back when, the Europeans had their womyn wearing skirts to their ankles and their ankles had to be covered by their boots or they were considered whores. Europeans come across the big lake and “find us”, particularly the womyn without “appropriate non-whore” clothing and tell our men that we need to wear skirts down to our ankles less we be considered whores.  Never mind that we were considered heathens and savages but add in whores then you got a bad mix; who knew?  The Europeans of the day were prudes who sexualized everything and apparently couldn’t control their sexual urges so we had to be covered up.  And so it begins that we, as Anishinaabe womyn, have to wear in ceremony, skirts down to our ankles or we have to leave and come back “appropriately” dressed.  OMG!!  I leave usually when I get scolded; i figure if I am scolded then that is not a healthy place for me to be.

My grandaughter & I (womyn without skirts)
Lastly, we as a people carry this colonial skirt teaching and make it ours; and so begins male dominance.  We so devotedly believe that it is part of our original teachings without looking closely at it that we shame our youth and womyn into wearing a skirt with false teachings that it dictates to the Creator that we are womyn and kind.  By doing this we push away our people who want to participate, especially the young.  I am a contrary and do things backwards to show another way and I wear a skirt only if I am feeling it.  I have been known to sing and drum without a skirt (this is where I get struck by lightning…wait….nope not struck yet) and attend ceremonies without one on.  I will put one on when I go into the sweat lodge but it isn’t always down to my ankles (remember I trip a lot). I wear the skirt because it keeps me cool in the lodge not because I don’t want to entice the man across from me because my skin is showing.  Cripes! If he is in there for that then he shouldn’t be there which goes the same for womyn.  I go into pray and support others.  I also put one on when I need to be at the ceremony and know I cannot change the false thinking of the one who is holding it.  I respect where they are at.  I am good wearing a skirt at times knowing that I have the true teachings of where it comes from.  When in Rome do as the Romans do; or so they say.  I can either choose to rock the boat hoping for change or just go with it because I too am important to the ceremony/teaching. 

And there you have it my friend, my teachings on the skirt without the shaming.  Shaming has no purpose in our way of being.  I hope it helps you and others.  In good thoughts.  Mii-wi.

Carrianne Agawa


  1. Well said I am not a traditional native. My ancestors came from Ireland, England, France and Finland. I can truly relate from my own upbringing to customs that were past on in relation to dress code. Customs of our ancestors in the form of dress may be different today this should not have a bering on our worship as it is from the soul our spirit from within. I too have always challenge many issues that should not really matter although do for some. Well said. Thanks Carrianne

  2. Thank you for your comments; greatly appreciated they are.


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