“Art Heals: The Jingle Dress Project” Educates and Honors Native American Women

3 min read

Linnea Mayo ’26

Arts & Entertainment Editor

On Tuesday March 5, 2024 Woman and Gender Resource Action Center (WGRAC), Office of Multicultural Affairs (OMA) and other campus organizations organized a discussion and performance titled “The Jingle Dress Project: Native Women in Leadership” as part of WGRAC’s annual Women’s History Month series. Eugene Tapahe of the Navajo Nation and his two daughters Dion Tapahe and Erin Tapahe spoke about their experiences of creating and sharing this project over the last few years, and performed an honorary dance for the community. 

The Jingle Dress Project began when Eugene had a dream of the Ojibwe Tribe’s jingle dress dance healing the land. Since then, the project has traveled over 25,000 miles around the U.S. to capture the Native women in National Parks and Monuments. The project aims to bring global attention to Native American issues through the Ojibwe jingle dress dance. The photography and dance of the project allows them to reclaim their Indigenous space and heal the land. Dion and Erin explained that each jingle dress consists of 365 cones, which signifies one prayer for every day of the year. Because you cannot be quiet in a jingle dress, the dress itself is a statement of Native women’s continued presence. 

The event was heavily organized by Chenille Jake ’24, who was inspired by the Jingle Dress Project from its beginning. Jake gained a lot of support from organizations and administrators on and off campus to make the event as successful as possible. The Saukiog Harvest Festival of Native American, Indigenous and Cross Cultures — a Hartford based committee that puts together a community event for Indigenous Peoples’ Day — as well as the Institution of American Indian Studies attended and tabled at the event in support. 

When moderating the conversation, Jake posed thoughtful questions about the girls’ personal experiences balancing pursuing higher education while also doing the Jingle Dress Project. Both Dion and Erin expressed not anticipating how large the project would become and the tremendous impact it has had on healing people. Their project brought them and their communities hope in a time of chaos, and they quickly realized the responsibility they had. 

“For them it is more about honoring that moment and honoring everyone before them, them now and them after. As you dance, you pray. As you sing, you think good thoughts,” says Jake. 

They also shared advice on being an advocate and community leader, and encouraged the audience to continue to learn outside of school, learn from elders, and not be afraid to share your voice. They explained that being part of the Jingle Dress Project has empowered them to respect their traditions and who they are. After a short intermission where Eugene showcased an upcoming documentary, Dion and Erin performed a Native honor dance, where the audience stood as the women danced. Dance is very important to Native communities because “It’s who we are and gives the recognition that this is who we are, this is how we’re taught and this is how we learn,” explains Jake. 

The event concluded with Erin and Dion leading event attendees in a round dance, where everyone joined hands in a circle and followed the steps to a Native honor song. “The performance is connected to who we are as Native people. The audience sees it as a performance, Native people see it as being who we are,” said Jake. “People need to understand that just as much as the performance was a performance, it was also a lesson for all of us and a blessing.”

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