Sierra William (left) with her grandmother Eileen William. (Roger William photo)

Sierra William (left) with her grandmother Eileen William. (Roger William photo)

INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S DAY 2021: Sierra William

Xeni Gwet’in woman finds strength in tradition

Sierra William, 18, feels a profound sense of strength and peace when she wears or creates a traditional Indigenous ribbon skirt.

The young woman of Xeni Gwet’in First Nation spends her free time making ribbon skirts when she’s not busy during the week with her post-secondary studies or her fast-food job in Williams Lake over the weekend.

Her love of the work that goes into making ribbon skirts, which are considered sacred, began at a young age through observing her grandmother, Eileen William, who would also sew jingle dresses and fancy dance regalia and make moccasins, gloves and purses.

Each ribbon skirt takes an undetermined length of time to complete.

“When you’re making it, you can’t put any of that negative energy into it,” William said.

“Any time you’re feeling angry or frustrated, you have to take a step back because when you’re making them, you’re putting your energy into them—if I’m making it for someone, they can feel the energy from what you made them.”

William only started making ribbon skirts two years ago.

“When I moved to Williams Lake, some of my friends started having ribbon skirts, and I always loved how pretty and how colorful they are,” William said, adding she had seen the ignited pride of ribbon skirts on social media.

William is currently trying to learn more about beading and making ribbon skirts decorated with fabric pieces that form pictures or patterns (appliqués) such as horses, women, trees or fish.

She also makes ribbon shirts and masks and is working on creating a jingle dress and fancy dress regalia of her own.

Over the next five years, William hopes to obtain her Bachelor of Arts and complete her Bachelor of Social Work.

“They support 100 percent of what I am doing,” she said of her proud parents Shannon Stump-William and Roger William, a former Xeni Gwet’in chief.

“My parents were foster parents, and just the stories of what foster kids have been through—I feel like there are not many First Nations social workers around here, and there needs to be more First Nations helping each other out.”


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