What initially started as a conversation between University of Idaho student Asiah Brazil-Geyshick and U of I Native American Student Center (NASC) Program Coordinator Dakota Kidder turned into a unique opportunity for Native students.
Since arriving at U of I, Brazil-Geyshick has been exploring ways to tie her major in apparel, textiles and design (ATD) to her Native culture while also educating others. Kidder suggested developing an event where Native students could complete a cultural project with ATD students to learn together.
Brazil-Geyshick, a junior from Annadale, Minnesota and member of the Ojibwa Tribe, took the idea to Chelsey Lewallen, her academic advisor in the Margaret Ritchie School of Family and Consumer Sciences, and a new event was born.
“I thought we could make this into a whole learning experience for both the ATD students and for the Native American students,” Brazil-Geyshick said. “The Native American students didn’t really know how to sew and the ATD students could learn more about my culture and Native American culture. That’s why I wanted to start it.”
Kidder and Brazil-Geyshick decided to offer Native American students the opportunity to learn how to sew their own ribbon skirts with guidance from ATD students and faculty. A ribbon skirt is typically a cotton or satin cloth skirt with ribbons of different sizes and colors. The skirts are worn at ceremonial events.
“Ribbon skirts are representative of your identity and showing your Native identity and being proud to show it outwardly,” Kidder said. “Sometimes I think it takes bravery, especially with a lot of our students who don’t necessarily come from tribal communities and weren’t around it, because it’s another thing that people see and can judge on.”
The event began with basic sewing machine demonstrations by FCS faculty Sonya Meyer and Lori Wahl. Roberta Paul, retired director of Native American Health Sciences at Washington State University, spoke with the group about the tradition of the ribbon skirts. Paul graduated from U of I with a bachelor’s degree in clothing, textiles and design in 1972 and is a member of the Nez Perce tribe.
“Dr. Paul is also a seamstress and has a lot of knowledge behind sewing,” Kidder said. “She is always willing to share her knowledge.”
ATD students were on hand to help with questions about operating the sewing machines, but the bulk of the work was completed by the Native students to create their own skirts.
For Brazil-Geyshick, combining her love for sewing with her culture was the best part of the experience.
“I think the most fulfilling part was being able to sew something from my culture,” she said. “I’ve done it before, but it wasn’t with people from my culture. It was kind of enriching.”
Kidder was excited to offer an opportunity for Native American students to learn a skill that they can take with them and pass on to their families.
“The most valuable part for the students was learning a skill that they’ll have for years to come,” she said. “I think their interest was definitely tied to that kinship system and the responsibilities we have to our families, to learn these skills so that we can pass it on. I think that was the deeper excitement of them wanting to learn this for their families.”
While there are no formal plans yet, both Kidder and Brazil-Geyshick hope that partnerships between the NASC and ATD program will continue in the future.
“I think that’s one of the great things and why we have our programs is that you can come to the university and learn not only the technical skills of your career field, but you can also gain some really awesome cultural skills and values when you take advantage of these opportunities that we have collaborated with other departments on,” Kidder said.
Funding for the event was provided by the U of I Women’s Center.
Article by Amy Calabretta, College of Agricultural and Life Sciences
Photos by Garrett Britton, University of Idaho Visual Productions
Published in May 2023