St. Michael Community School uses formal day to build cultural understanding

Staff members from St. Michael Community School model ribbon skirts during the school’s formal day on Thursday./SUBMITTED PHOTO COURTESY ST. MICHAEL COMMUNITY SCHOOL

The week of Feb. 7 to 13 is Teacher and Staff Appreciation Week and students and staff at St. Michael Community School saw a way to use the week to build cultural understanding.

“We had formal day yesterday and it was in honour of the Indigenous girl, Isabella Kulak who wore a ribbon skirt for formal day at her school and she was told that it wasn’t formal. So for our formal day we drew a bunch of ribbon skirts and shirts and a bunch of students and staff wore ribbon shirts and skirts that day in honour of her,” Principal Darren McDougall said.

McDougall said that it was a way to take a negative event in the larger community and turn it into a larger positive event in the school.

“It was a total group effort and it was a pretty awesome day yesterday. You could see it on the kids faces, they were pretty pumped to be part of that,” McDougall said.

In December of 2020, 10-year-old Kulak, who is a member of Cote First Nation, wore a ribbon skirt to a formal day at school in Kamsack. During the formal day Kulak was told that her skirt and other dress was not considered formal.

The Good Spirit School Division eventually apologized for what her father called a ‘racially motivated comment.’

Grade 1 teacher Chelise Gamble brought the incident to the staff’s attention and thought the school should celebrate ‘formal day’ by wearing ribbon shirts and skirts.

Students at St. Michael were encouraged to dress formally, including ribbon shirts and skirts for  formal day. McDougall  said that many students and staff wore ribbon shirts or skirts on Thursday.

The School Community Council (SCC) funded for Glenda Ryder-Eashappie, Therese Gerow and Harriette Natomagan  to make two ribbon shirts and two ribbon skirts that were drawn for staff during Staff Appreciation Week.

“They put a lot of work on the weekend to get this done and it was all kudos to them,” he added.

There was also a ribbon shirt made for McDougall and vice principal Sean Nelson.

They also made five ribbon shirts and five ribbon skirts that were drawn as prizes for students.

“We were able to have staff members that are able to make those  and we are fortunate enough that we have an SCC that was able to really take that ball and run with it and make a bunch of shirts and give that awareness,” McDougall said.

Nelson also contributed to the awareness through a ribbon shirt and skirt activity with every class in St. Michael.

The overall understanding that the event brought was a bigger part of the whole event.

 “We have a lot of First Nations students and Metis students. Bringing cultural awareness… lifts everyone’s spirit, both staff and students. It was just a great day, it was a great day at St. Mike’s yesterday, you could just see it in their faces,” McDougall said.

McDougall was proud to be along for the ride as the concept came together.

“I thought it was a great idea, but they are the ones that really should get the recognition,”  he said of staff and SCC.