I am a white woman of Ukrainian descent who has been involved in aboriginal ceremonies for the past 12 years. I have been so grateful to have more recently participated in a Ghost Dance and a Sun Dance and a Yuwipi ceremony. I am always careful to honour protocol and wear an appropriate long skirt (hard being 6 feet tall to find one long enough!). I have wanted to be as respectful as possible. I am curious if making a ribbon skirt or a dress to do Ghost Dance is allowed for a participant if they are not native. I have received very mixed messages. Some aboriginal people welcome it and find it extremely respectful and others have said it is appropriation. I feel the only dresses that are suitably long and modest are often from another culture- African, Mexican- unless I make something myself. Can you share your thoughts with me?

I’m glad you asked this question,

Please continue to take these precautions and ask these questions, as a non native interested in another culture’s traditional artwork. Good to hear that you have respect for other Native cultures, and coming from being Native there are several things to be aware of.

For some tribes, there are traditional and spiritual restrictions for people outside of their tribe to take on artforms that took a life time to learn or even to be “initiated” to be able to practice or make specific works of art. And in some circumstances some tribes believe doing this without permission will affect the person in the future. So knowing that, it would not be very respectful to somewhat “jump in” and pick it up without having the history or credentials to treat cultural artwork in such a way.

Our cultural objects and outer wear is built into a belief system of who we are and our blood line of things tied to the natural world for generations and through our creation stories, that’s where cultural appropriation comes in. It may seem like these are modern materials used to make a skirt but it is so much more than that.

Again, that doesn’t stop us from you doing whatever you want at that moment. Some indigenous people are more welcoming and have their words why, others are more strict and hold their sacred things close to them, their family, their home, and people, because it’s a way of life that they cherish being born into.

So what you choose is up to you, we hope you listen to every indigenous person you asked, and thank you for asking.

I hope this was helpful, good luck, and thank you for being respectful.


Auntie Manda

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