Fort Lewis College pupil Bella Aiukli Cornell nearly couldn’t consider the sight she noticed on Inauguration Day.
It wasn’t a lot the altering of the guard as President Joe Biden took his oath to develop into the U.S.’s forty sixth president. No.
Instead, what took Cornell aback was a photograph of New Mexico Rep. Deb Haaland carrying the normal ribbon skirt Cornell had sewed and given to the congresswoman when the 2 met in 2019.
“It was really surprising,” Cornell mentioned. “Seeing her wear that on such an important day, it made me happy she was representing us well.”
Cornell, 19, of the Choctaw Nation first met Haaland in February 2019 when she got here to Oklahoma City for an occasion. That’s when Cornell gave Haaland the normal ribbon skirt.
Haaland of the Laguna Pueblo tribe was appointed by Biden to function secretary of the Interior Department. If confirmed, she could be the primary Native American to serve in that place within the historical past of the U.S.
“I had been admiring her for a long time, ever since she started stepping into positions of leadership,” Cornell mentioned. “And I wanted to give her that because that’s something we do when we admire someone in our culture.”
The Plains Indian Tribes first created the ribbon skirt, which was traded for different items. But different tribes have related clothes, and through the years, the skirts have developed and tailored as different Native individuals make totally different interpretations.
“They bring awareness,” Cornell mentioned. “When you see an Indigenous woman walk into a room (wearing a ribbon skirt), she’s represented in a good way. They’re very symbolic for us.”
Cornell realized to stitch when she was 16 years outdated from her mom and grandmother, and ever since, has been studying and increasing her information in regards to the items she makes.
Cornell even began her personal firm to promote her creations, known as Aiukli Designs. Ribbon skirts are reserved on the market solely to Native individuals, however Cornell’s beaded earrings can be found to anybody.
Cornell’s artwork has made headlines previously.
An article in Teen Vogue in 2018 put Cornell within the highlight after she wore a pink promenade gown to carry consciousness to the difficulty of Indigenous girl who go lacking or are murdered.
“Prom was coming up, and I wanted to bring representation to my culture,” Cornell mentioned.
Cornell mentioned she contacted the style designer Della Bighair-Stump to provide you with the gown thought collectively. Bighair-Stump is an enrolled member of the Crow tribe in Montana.
Not lengthy after promenade, nevertheless, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History contacted Cornell asking if the museum might use the gown for its “Girlhood” exhibit.
Cornell, although, was hit with blended feelings.
She was extremely excited to carry extra consciousness to the difficulty, however on the identical time, Indigenous individuals have conflicting relationships with these kind of museums, which traditionally stole and exploited gadgets from tribes.
So, Cornell sought the recommendation of her neighborhood. And in the end, she determined to donate it. The gown is on show to at the present time.
“I was willing to donate it for the sole intention of spreading awareness (about missing or murdered Native women),” she mentioned. “It’s not just a dress for one night anymore, now it means something a lot bigger.”
Cornell is a sophomore at Fort Lewis College, drawn to Southwest Colorado for its surroundings and the great academic packages in her discipline.
Cornell is majoring in psychology, with a minor in Native American research. After faculty, she intends to return to her tribe and supply counseling companies to youths in want.
“There’s a big lack of mental health services, for youths specifically,” she mentioned. “That’s what I want to do.”