Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Created during the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic, Jingle Dresses are once again offering inspiration, healing

By Rich Tupica - April 07, 2020 at 05:58PM

Published April 7, 2020

Ojibwe women, in 1940, wearing Jingle Dresses at Cass Lake in Minnesota. (photo: Mille Lacs Indian Museum)

Back in 1918, “the mother of all pandemics” swiftly spread influenza to 500 million people, one-third of the world’s population.

It was a devastating two-year period that killed an estimated 17 million people globally. There was no vaccine to prevent it and no antibiotics to treat it. Control efforts were limited to non-pharmaceutical interventions, including quarantine, home remedies, good-hygiene practices and disinfectant use. 

It was during that time of great sadness and uncertainty that the Jingle Dress — adorned with jingling metal cones — was created by three different Ojibwa communities: the Mille Lacs, Red Lake Band of Chippewa and the Whitefish Bay Ojibwe.

Also known as the Prayer Dress, the Jingle Dress is thought to bring healing to those who are sick. The dress and the Prayer Dress Dance have been mainstays of American Indian and First Nations pow wows.  

Flash-forward to today, as our nation now fights the COVID-19 pandemic, and the inspiring rattle of the Jingle Dress has been making waves across social media, thanks to dancers who are sharing inspiring videos of themselves praying and dancing in the intricately-crafted regalia.

“We know today that there’s a lot about healing that can be done through medicine, but [there is] a psychological component that is less understood,” Brenda J. Child, author of My Grandfather’s Knocking Sticks, said in a previous interview with the University of Minnesota. “Their dance was part of this psychological component of illness.”

The dresses, which are commonly seen at Powwows across the country, jingle as the person walks and is said to spread healing. 

Shyla Tootoosis, 11, is a young dancer from Thunderchild First Nation in Saskatchewan. Last month, Tootoosis was profiled by CBC reporter Rhiannon Johnson after she posted videos, along with help from her mother.  

“It’s a really beautiful dance that provides healing,” Tootoosis told CBC. “When I was growing up I was always taught to pray for one another, and it was a true honor to pray for the world.”

Last year, as the Jingle Dress turned 100 years old, the Mille Lacs Indian Museum and Trading Post unveiled its exhibition, Ziibaaska’ iganagooday: The Jingle Dress at 100.

Through photographs, oral tradition and a display of jingle dresses from the Minnesota Historical Society’s  collections, visitors learn not only about the dress and dance, but also how its origin can be traced to the Mille Lacs Ojibwe. It’s set to run through October 2020, but (due to the COVID-19 crisis) please check for new dates and times.


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