Skip to main content

'I was ashamed': Former employee of Sask. jail says she filed complaint after being told to take off ribbon skirt

Share

A woman who used to work in an Indigenous cultural role at a Yorkton jail said she filed a complaint with the Ministry of Justice after she was told she was not allowed to wear a ribbon skirt.

Joann Morrisseau Dickson accepted the cultural coordinator job at the Whitespruce Provincial Training Centre to help heal offenders through cultural practices in August 2022.

Three months later, Saskatchewan’s Ministry of Corrections, Policing and Public Safety terminated her employment.

“I just felt so ashamed — and embarrassed — and hurt. And it still upsets me, it hurts me,” Morriseau Dickson said.

Morriseau Dickson recounted an incident where she said management complained about her ribbon skirt and asked her to take it off.

“I was wearing my ribbon skirt that day and I had a pair of long johns underneath it, some black long Johns,” explained Morrisseau Dickson.

Following the incident, Morrisseau Dickson said she hung the ribbon skirt on her door, feeling ashamed to go anywhere in the jail.

“I ran into some other people that I work with (later that day) and I discussed it with them and probably shed a tear,” she said.

“I tried to keep it quiet because I didn't want anybody to see me with my long johns.”

MINISTRY INVESTIGATING

Morriseau Dickson was terminated from her position on Nov. 15, 2022. She provided a copy of her termination letter to CTV News.

The letter describes multiple meetings with management where performance issues were discussed with Morriseau Dickson. The letter includes a reference to her being told to wear an appropriate uniform, but that she was allowed to wear her “regalia” for ceremonies.

To Morrisseau Dickson, a ribbon skirt is not regalia – a common term for clothing worn during powwow dancing.

“We’re in reconciliation. This should never happen. This is our cultural, traditional wear. This is something that identifies me as an indigenous woman,” she said.

“When you wear this, it shows you, I am who I am. I accept you. You can accept me.”

CTV News reached out to the Ministry of Corrections, Policing and Public Safety for comment on Morrisseau Dickson’s termination.

“Due to privacy legislation, the ministry is unable to discuss staff employment history or individual personnel files,” the ministry said in an emailed statement.

The matter is currently under investigation by the ministry, according to Morrisseau Dickson. She said she reported the incident to the Ministry of Justice at the time of the incident and contacted the offices of Premier Scott Moe and local MLA Greg Ottenbreit after she had been fired. She was told she would be provided with a decision “in the new year.”

Wednesday, Premier Scott Moe told CTV News he hadn’t heard of Morrisseau Dickson’s story.

“I’m certain, if that’s the case, which I certainly hope it’s not, that there is going to be some type of investigation or a number of processes that would be in place for this. We need to be open and inclusive in this province, most certainly with respect to in the workplace,” he said.

If she was offered the job back, Morrisseau Dickson said she would take it, due to what she says it brought to the inmates at Whitespruce.

“They need somebody who can understand them in the community. I've got 25 years service, working in the correctional system. I know the system inside and out. I'm an Indigenous woman. I live this every day. It just was working so perfectly. I thought it would be a perfect job,” she said.

“I saw it as a colonial way. And I wanted to do it more traditional and more dynamic for the centre, seeing as I hadn't had anybody there.”

'THIS HAS GOT TO STOP': NDP MLA

Betty Nippi Albright, the NDP MLA for Saskatoon-Centre, believes this situation could have been avoided by “effective cultural awareness training.”

“Individuals in these institutions, decision makers in these institutions, stop making assumptions. Stop making conclusions about who we are as a people. Ask us, ask us — don't jump to conclusions,” she said in an interview Tuesday.

“If white people and if managers took the time to get to know their Indigenous employees, and especially those that are carrying out cultural programs, if they took the time to get to know them, and to understand that, we wouldn't be (seeing) these issues.”

She pleaded that Morrisseau Dickson file a human rights complaint and said systemic racism is entrenched in Saskatchewan.

“We can create all the awareness and education that they want, but we need to have tough, tough measures in place when we need to call out racism when it happens. And we need to make it public,” she said.

“For this individual that got fired, the way you were treated was wrong. No person should ever be shamed, because of who they are.”

CTVNews.ca Top Stories

Looking to relax? Take a walk with a Llama

Despite their unique personalities, all of Josée Gautreau’s 15 llamas love treats. And for nearly four years, they’ve earned extra snacks by walking with tourists.

Stay Connected