“We were trying to figure out how we could best help people in need”

For the young Navajo women of Art Heals: The Jingle Dress Project, the musical badges they wear as they travel across the country represent more than just gorgeous textile art. (Although that’s it, too, that’s for sure.)

Their fringed dresses, each fitted with 365 cones, also represent the healing, which they hope to bring to a nation struggling with everything from an ongoing pandemic to questions over Indigenous land rights.

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“It is said that when the jingles strike each other – when you can hear the sound of the dance, of the dress – it is the prayers of the bell-dress dancer ascending to the Creator,” the Jingle Dress dancer said. Project, Dion Tapahe. The knowledge.

Dion is one of the four dancers who make up Art Heals: The Jingle Dress Project. Along with her sister Erin Tapahe and friends Sunni and JoAnni Begay, their mission is to bring healing to Native American communities across the United States who are feeling the pain of the past year and a half – and beyond.

The project itself began as a dream of Dion and Erin’s father, landscape photographer Eugene Tapahe.

“In 2020, at the start of the pandemic, my father Eugene Tapahe dreamed of this fringed dress. And in his dream he saw a field of grass. And there were bison there, as well as dancers in jingle dresses. And there were hundreds of dancers in jingle dresses. And he felt peace in his heart, ”Dion explained.

Eugene’s dream is similar to the vision of the man who first designed the fringed dress. During the 1918 pandemic, an Ojibwa medicine man dreamed of the fringed dress and a dance that could help his sick daughter. He dreamed of a dress with cones made from tobacco lids, each representing every day of a year. After a night of dancing, the little girl was healed.

It is this healing that Eugene wanted to bring to everyone. Soon, The Jingle Dress project was born.

“During this time of the pandemic, indigenous communities have been hit very hard by the coronavirus, and we were trying to figure out how we could better help those who need it,” Dion said.

“The fringed robe is a very spiritual robe – it is very sacred – and its powers are used to bring healing to those who are sick, whether it is mentally, physically, spiritually,” Sunni added.

“Four is a very sacred number. “

While the Tapahe sisters were dancers, they had no experience in modeling. But this was not a problem for Eugene, who wanted to include his two daughters as dancers and models for the project.

With the pandemic presenting so many restrictions, bringing together hundreds of dancers was not possible. It was then that Eugene decided he would focus on the four.

“In our Navajo culture, four is a very sacred number,” Dion explained. “And so he said, ‘If we could have four dancers in fringed dresses, then I think that would be great.'”

It was then that the Tapahe family contacted Sisters Sunni and JoAnni, whom they had met at university. Once they agreed, the team hosted their first photoshoot at the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah.

“In our first photoshoot, Dion, Erin, JoAnni, Sunni and I learned to work together,” Eugene explained on the Jingle Dress Project website. “They weren’t models. I was not a portrait photographer. It was embarrassing, frustrating and new. But, from the moment they started dancing on the field, everything changed. I cried. I could feel myself healed from the uncertainties of the world – time slowed down.

Since that first photoshoot, Eugene and the quartet have crisscrossed the country, visiting places such as the Washington Mall, Santa Monica Pier, Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming, and even the Boston Marathon.

Increase awareness

In addition to providing much needed healing, the Jingle Dress Project has also helped raise awareness of issues specifically affecting Native American communities, including missing and murdered Indigenous women, land and water rights, and sports mascots. that create a caricature of Native Americans. and cultural.

Art Heals: The Jingle Dress project has had a visible impact across the country. In fact, the group just won the 2021 Red Nation International Film Festival Courage Award. It was after Eugene’s photographs were added to the permanent collection of the Birmingham Museum of Art, after dancing on the line. arrival of the 125th Annual Boston Marathon and after being recognized by US Home Secretary Deb Haaland (Laguna Pueblo).

What started as a dream has turned into a stimulating and, most importantly, healing reality.

“I think the reason it’s been successful is that we are using the healing powers of the fringed dress,” Sunni told In The Know. “And it brings a lot of hope and unity to those who have heard our story, who are looking for something bigger than themselves.”

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The publication The Jingle Dress Project Brings Healing Through Indigenous Dance first appeared on In The Know.

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