Native Americans put digital spin on traditions amid virus

Published 2:30 pm Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Native Americans across the U.S. are organizing online and social-distancing powwows and posting videos of dances as a way to offer hope and spiritual support during the coronavirus pandemic.

Over the weekend, jingle dress dancers and singers on the Bad River Reservation in Wisconsin gathered in a casino parking lot and observed social distancing while performing for community members who watched from their cars, Indian Country Today reported.

“Jingle dresses are medicine dresses,” said Jody Bigboy, a Bad River tribal judge who helped organize the event.

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Other jingle dress dancers shared videos on social media sites from Montana, Arizona, the Dakotas, Canada and elsewhere. And groups like Social Distance Powwow kept dancers, singers, vendors and others connected on Facebook.

Community song and dance have always been a part of health and prayer for Native people, Indian Country Today reported. And the jingle dress — or zibaaska’iganagooday, the dress of exploding sound in the Ojibwe language — in particular has a long history of healing.

While embraced by many tribes, its origins are based in Ojibwe country, which includes Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Ontario, Canada, the site reported.

According to teachings passed down through oral history, a dream came to an Ojibwe father whose daughter was very ill. A woman in the dream danced in spring-like steps, always keeping one foot on the ground. She wore a dress covered in bits of metal that created explosive sounds.

The father built the dress, and his daughter wore it and danced like the woman in the dream. She began to feel better and eventually recovered.

The dance gained a reputation for healing and spread to communities throughout Ojibwe country and beyond.

“When the jingles start singing, we believe they help take our prayers and songs up to the Creator,” Bigboy said. “The dance can offer hope and healing for those who need it.”

For Saturday’s powwow, Bigboy said she put out a call on Facebook asking if people wanted to participate, and more than 30 dancers signed up.

The tribe loaned the group orange safety cones to mark out a dance circle.

“Organizing the dance was super organic,” said Lynn Maday Bigboy, Bad River youth service coordinator. “It offered a good way to offer healing to our community and the world.”