An event announced less than a week ago filled the Duwamish Tribe Longhouse with more than 100 visitors this afternoon: The Jingle Dress Project. Longhouse director Jolene Haas explained the dancers were there for a ceremony, not a performance. They came to “lift up the Duwamish … they are sharing part of their heart.”
After Haas and her mother, Duwamish Tribe chair Cecile Hansen (above), welcomed the visitors seated all around the Longhouse’s main room, Jingle Dress Project founder Eugene Tapahe and the dancers – three women including his two daughters – spoke to the visitors for an hour.
Tapahe, a landscape photographer, told the story of how the idea came to him in a dream – after he lost his aunt to COVID. Native people celebrate death along with life, he explained, and it was agonizing that only six people could gather to commemorate the death. The Jingle Dress Dance was an Ojibwe creation for healing in the Spanish Flu pandemic a century ago – while he and the dancers are Diné (Navajo), he said the Ojibwe gave permission to other tribes to use the Jingle Dress to heal. “If we heal the land, then we’ll heal the people,” he realized. “We need Mother Earth; she doesn’t need us.” At first, they danced on lands that especially needed healing – national/state parks that he said were among the first Native lands lost to colonization.
The dancers – from left above, Sunni Begay and Erin and Dion Tapahe – are all college students or recent graduates, all from Utah. Their first dance today was an Honor Song – a prayer; Eugene asked that it not be followed by applause. The second and third were more celebratory, Before you watch and listen, a few words about the Jingle Dress – it is covered in more than 100 metal cones, not bells, that “jingle” when they click together, but make no sound if one is shaken alone.
The dancers’ regalia also included red scarves in tribute to missing/murdered Indigenous women.
After a third dance, and words of gratitude from Eugene’s wife Sharon Tapahe, they answered questions from those gathered. One question was “Who made the dresses?” Answer – family and friends. And they’re “really heavy” – up to 15 pounds.
THeir Duwamish hosts (Jolene Haas is at right above) presented gifts of cedar sprigs – a sacred tree – before a fourth dance, one that everyone present was invited to join in, a “round dance” that circled the room.
Then it was time to go, with memories of the healing as well as of the message the Duwamish and their guests repeated throughout the afternoon, a reminder from all Indigenous people: “We are still here.”
P.S. Before leaving Seattle, they plan to dance tomorrow (Sunday) at Pike Place, 3:30 pm.