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Black Diamond students sewing gifts to help women escaping violence

Youth at Oilfields High School crafting tote bags and ribbon skirts for Rowan House Emergency Shelter
WW-Oilfields Textiles submitted_1
Students from Oilfields High School sewed tote bags and Indigenous ribbon skirts for clients of the Rowan House Emergency Shelter.
Black Diamond students are sewing items for women in need.

Youth in the Oilfields High School textiles program have put their talents to work creating tote bags and ribbon skirts for clients of the Rowan House Emergency Shelter.

“I framed the project to the kids to say this is a gift, because then they really looked at it as something they were going to put their effort and hearts into,” said Oilfields food and textiles teacher Danika Holt. “We really want to stress transferable knowledge. At the Foothills School Division we’re trying to get the students to connect to real life.”

While the project was intended to go ahead at the start of 2020, the pandemic put it on hold.

Ally Cramm, Rowan House community relations co-ordinator, said the gifts would help get women at the shelter back to normalcy.

“It’s really nice that students think of us to be the beneficiaries of their work they’re doing in school,” said Cramm. “Totes are a really great idea for a gift to give to the women in our shelter because when they come to Rowan House, they basically arrive with nothing."

During their stay, she continued, they are given some necessities, and the bags will help.

“They do gather some stuff while they’re in shelter, so when they’re leaving we can give them a nice tote to put that stuff in, and then it’s something they can take on to their new homes and new journeys,” she added.

To expand the offering, Holt approached the FSD’s Indigenous learning facilitator, Charity Tegler, to guide the students in making the ribbon skirts for Indigenous clients of the Rowan house.

“I just think it’s a wonderful idea to connect them back to their identity and give them a sense of empowerment,” said Tegler, who had seen firsthand how those in crisis are affected.

“I had an opportunity to work in a domestic violence shelter in Strathmore, so I understand the women, what they’re going through, and then having that cultural lens, just knowing how that can reconnect them and give them that sense of empowerment, connecting them back to their identity and their culture, especially when they’re in crisis.”

With that, Tegler relayed information she had received from First Nations elders and knowledge keepers to offer students context and understanding of the cultural roots behind what they were giving the Rowan House.

“We explored some historical cultural teachings from authentic voices, then we looked at modern symbols for resilience, identity, strength and womanhood,” Tegler said. “We listened to an elder, then another presenter more from a modern context.”

The lesson also included learning about statistics for domestic violence against Indigenous women and the connection to the plight of missing and murdered Indigenous women.

“I drew the connection and educated the students around those statistics, which are grossly outnumbered for Indigenous women and girls that are affected by domestic violence,” Tegler said.

“So I thought it was important for students to see that connection, because we’re more than four times more likely to experience domestic violence than non-Indigenous women.”

The class also learned about the recent incident at a school in Kamsack, Sask. where a 10-year-old girl was shamed by a teacher's aide for wearing her ribbon skirt during a “formal day.”

“We looked at a current event in Canada which was the catalyst for movement towards celebrating the ribbon skirt as a symbol in our modern Indigenous culture, so recognizing it as formal attire,” Tegler said.

With that background and cultural context, Tegler said the students proceeded to make the skirts for the Rowan House.

“Hopefully the women there will make them their own and add to them,” she said.


Brent Calver

About the Author: Brent Calver

Award-winning photojournalist for the Okotoks Western Wheel and OkotoksToday.ca
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