Call of the Jingle Dress
Grieving has no time structure, boundaries, or limitations.
My own grieving took on a life of its own, when my mother unexpectedly passed on December 17, 1983. I was 26 years old. But my age at this point ceased to matter, as time stopped. Existence was on autopilot. Days drifted into nights, months, then years.
My lifeline is my family: Atikameksheng Anishnawbek First Nation in Ontario, Canada. In July 1989, our family reserve held its first Traditional Powwow. I knew it was an important event for our family, so I packed up the kids and drove the 800-mile journey in thirteen hours, pushing forward because I wanted to be “home.”
At Second Beach, where the Powwow was held, I saw an arbor built of cedar boughs. The scent of burning birch and ash, drifting from our sacred fire, comforted my weary heart. I kept walking further onto the Powwow grounds until I reached my destination: the dance arena. Spectators were watching, waiting, and observing the dancers gathering. Within this circle, more cedar boughs created a secondary circular covering, for the drummers and singers who will honor us with their songs.
My feet did not allow me to enter the arena. I had no strength. I was a spirit of hollow bones. I walked outside the sacredness and observed, waiting for the Opening Ceremony.
The Western doorway to the dance arena is the exit for departing spirits of this world. I stood there to witness. The Eastern doorway is the place of innocence and beginnings for our people. Through this Eastern doorway, flags came in first, followed by dancers. Each group separated by their regalia arriving with grace, beauty and dignity. My senses were visually amazed by the movement of feathers, fur, bells, leather, colorful clothes and beadwork.
In the distant background, a song on the breeze, quietly called my name, my soul, to listen deeply. I was captured. It came closer and I watched as women entered the dance arena.
Their dresses were covered in rolled silver cones, each about two inches long, made from snuff can lids. Layers of silver cones surrounded each dress, reflecting the strong noon sun. Each woman moved gently, proudly, humbly into the circle. It was at that point that I could no longer hold onto my grief, the deep searing pain of losing my mother. Five years had passed, yet there I was outside the Western doorway crumbled on the ground like a piece of paper. Gut wrenching sobs flooded my face, wails came from my heart and soul, and I was lost to my surrender. Never had the loss of my Mother felt so exposed. Tears had certainly fallen. But not like this. Never like this.
My soul cried for the unrelenting sorrow of our short time together in this world. Those jingle dresses called me, telling me,
This is how your healing will begin, you must become a jingle dress dancer to heal. Not only yourself but your family, your ancestors, your history, your futures.