The Jingle Dress Dance: Self-expression and Healing

This blog has been edited for accuracy (paragraphs 7 & 8) and republished.

Introduction by Angela Bellegarde, Our Kids Network Indigenous Lead

Raven Sutherland is Plains Cree and Saulteaux from Lake St. Martin First Nation in Manitoba, currently living in Ontario. Upon learning that Raven is a competitive jingle dress dancer, I invited her to write a blog on this entrancing cultural art form to help OKN celebrate National Indigenous History Month. She has been dancing for more than 10 of her 20 years at seasonal and competitive powwows.

As a recent graduate from the Conestoga College Advertising and Marketing Communications Program, Raven plans to integrate inclusivity, emotion, and empowerment into her work.

The Jingle Dress Dance: Self-expression and Healing

By Raven Sutherland, Jingle Dress Dancer

The jingle dress dance comes from the Ojibwe people in Ontario and is known to be a healing dance. As Indigenous people, we believe in the healing of this medicine. 

I was called to the jingle dress dance at a very young age and have now been a jingle dancer for over 10 years. For me, dancing means healing, love, and the honour of carrying on such an important gift given to us by the Creator. In learning the dance, I was taught that you dance for the ones who can’t; for the ones whose culture was stolen; and for the ones who are sick. Jingle dancing is a very meaningful art form that dancers put all of themselves into. It is a part of my identity and a huge part of reclaiming my culture, because I am an intergenerational survivor of the Sixties Scoop. 

Regalia

What I love about the regalia we wear for powwow dancing, is how different they all are. That’s because our regalia is a form of self-expression and represents who you are as a person. Some designs, colours and feathers are passed down from generation to generation. Others are created by dancers to express themselves.

My regalia focuses on the colour purple because I have always been drawn to that colour. I want my regalia to be bright, colourful and something I feel beautiful and proud wearing. My mom and I design all of my outfits together and I often have a vision of what I want it to look like before I come to her with an idea. Creating regalia can be healing for many people and brings families together.

Modern day jingle cones and lids are sewn onto dresses by Indigenous dancers. The jingles sound like rain and they carry the prayers up to the creator. Traditionally, there are supposed to be 365 jingles on a dress; one for every day of the year. While you sew your dress, you should be thinking good thoughts and prayers.

Petitioners can give the jingle dancers tobacco to pray for them, or for something specific. A particular song and dance will be dedicated to the person who gives the tobacco.

Powwow

One common question I hear is “Can I attend a powwow if I’m not native?” The answer is yes, of course! We welcome everyone from all walks of life to come and experience our culture. There are plenty of “powpow 101” resources online. Do some research before you attend or if you’re unfamiliar with the dances. A word about powwow etiquette: please never touch or pull on a dancer’s regalia or take a picture without their permission. Each dancer has a personal and spiritual connection to their regalia that must be respected.

So come and join us at powwow, have an open mind, and enjoy our traditional food, song, drumming and dances. It is an amazing experience and an educational opportunity for you and your children.

Happy National Indigenous History Month!

For more information, read Pamela Sexsmith’s story about 76-year-old jingle dress dancer Evelyn Thom, a powerful role model and inspiration for young dancers. Windspeaker Publication.

National Indigenous Peoples Day: What does June 21 mean to you?

By Angela Bellegarde, Our Kids Network Indigenous Lead

On Sunday, many of us will be celebrating Father’s Day. Some of you will be enjoying a beautiful day reading a great book, by an Indigenous author, of course (#Indigenousreads). For Indigenous people in Canada, June 21 is a very special day: National Indigenous Peoples Day.

National Indigenous Peoples Day has been a long time coming and is now a day devoted to celebrating the unique and distinct culture and heritage of Indigenous people all across Canada. June 21 is also the Summer Solstice and, as such, is a traditional day of spiritual ceremony and celebration for Indigenous peoples.

Three Indigenous people in traditional dress are smiling and talking
Photo credit: Government of Canada – National Indigenous Peoples Day  

This year coming together to celebrate will look very different for us. Rather than feeling the beat of the pow wow drum deep in my heart, I will have to celebrate with virtual and televised events. For me, it will also be a day of reflection on how far National Indigenous Peoples Day has come as a significant day of observance and celebration in Canadian culture.

I look back fondly to the late 1990s, when my sister and her husband were living in a very non-Indigenous suburb of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan! This particular neighbourhood was newly developed and had expensive homes backing onto a large lake with walking trails. It was the central gathering spot for the community.

My brother-in-law decided that June 21 would be a great day to introduce his family to the neighbours. He arranged to have a tipi erected by the lake and ensured there was bannock and jam for us to share. He welcomed their non-Indigenous neighbours, and we relaxed and talked together all evening. It was wonderful! Everyone was so inquisitive and grateful for the opportunity to enter an actual tipi, and the questions were respectful and genuine.

I never let this special day go by without a celebration (even a quiet one) of some kind. This year, in addition to all the events happening on the internet, I intend to take a walk (physically distancing of course), on the Moccasin Trail in the Town of Oakville and give thanks for being Indigenous.

What will you be doing?

Conversations about Racism with Children. This is personal.

By Angela Bellegarde, Our Kids Network Indigenous Lead

Have you had a conversation with a child or youth about racism?

It would be difficult not to if you have a school-aged child or youth in your life. It’s a daily conversation in my home these days. While trying to encourage my 10-year-old to continue with her Grade 5 studies in order not to be a middle school drop-out adding to the number of Indigenous people who do not complete high school, I learned she has been watching Black Lives Matter demonstrations and protests on social media.  She has a hard time explaining how to add fractions, but she can show me how to signal if she needs a helmet in a demonstration or how to escape riot police.

My 14-year-old son has some pretty strong views too. I asked him how to make an Instagram post all black to show my support for the Black Lives Matter protests and he argued against it.  Not because he doesn’t support the movement, but because he feels people are jumping on a band wagon. He questions whether people are doing what seems easy or are they actively advocating in their lives every day. “Wow,” I thought, “I think I might be doing something right as a parent.”

I have a sense of what my kids are thinking about when it comes to racism, because I have these conversations with my kids regularly. To be sure, they are tough talks. As an Indigenous mother, it can be heartbreaking, but I do not have the luxury of choice. My kids are Indigenous in Canada. I have to ensure that they have the tools to deal with inevitable racism.

How do I start discussing systemic racism? 

My children were so excited to receive their Registered Indian cards in the mail. The fact that they are Registered Indians, as defined by the Government of Canada’s Indian Act – systemic legislation designed to assimilate and civilize the Indian – seemed like great place to start. It’s not like Mom hasn’t rained on their parade before.

So, I started with the Pass System. Notice how “system” is right there in the name. Systemic racism should be easy to spot, really. Canada’s Pass System required any Indian wanting to leave the reserve – for any reason – to ask permission of the “Indian Agent”. In fact, almost all activities required permission from the Indian Agent.  My children’s Kokhum (grandmother) had her own experience with this person.  “The Indian Agent sure was mad when your Mooshum and I got married”, she told my kids. “Your Mooshum didn’t ask for permission to marry me. Good thing we didn’t get married on the reserve. It may not have happened!”

I have also only touched on the Residential School System with my kids. These topics must be presented in small doses, and as necessary. Children can easily be overwhelmed with such heart-breaking information and need time to digest it.

Unfortunately, I have to speak to my children about the racism they will encounter at school, in sports, and with friends, and also with well-meaning non-Indigenous people in their lives.  If I had a Loonie for every time I heard “But you don’t look like an Indian. I think you mean to say you are Metis.” when I was growing up… Well I’d rather not think about that number right now. It didn’t take me long to learn that explaining the fact that I was a Registered Status Indian and band member of Peepeekisis First Nation, wouldn’t get me far with non-Indigenous parents and teachers who felt the need to set me straight on who I am. As a child, I always wondered why I was the one teaching them. They were the adults.

My son, who is very proud to be Indigenous, wears his identity on his sleeve. Literally. He recently did a peer to peer exchange with youth from Attiwapiskat First Nation in northern Ontario through Hockey Cares. You might recall hearing about Attiwapiskat in the news a few years back. The community realized a cluster of suicides and called on the Federal government to provide adequate mental health services.

The youth in Attiwapiskat gave out ball caps and hoodies with their community crest and the words “Proud to be Native” as gifts. I beam with joy to see my son wearing these items. As a kid growing up on the prairies, I knew that identifying yourself as a First Nations person could be dangerous. It still is actually, when we remember Coulton Boushie, the young Indigenous man who was killed by a white farmer in rural Saskatchewan.

Back to my son. He endured a racial incident with his friends this winter. I found him sobbing in his room one day. A visceral sob that I recognized. He was in pain. A pain that a mother’s kiss wouldn’t fix. Apparently a virtual game he was playing with friends got heated. Words were exchanged. None of them good, including my son’s. It got to the point where my son was told, “Go back to Residential School and get (insert word for sexual assault).” I never learned about Indigenous people in school, yet I went to a high school surrounded by First Nations reserves. Not one teacher, nor topic in the curriculum, was Indigenous.  I also never thought that this current generation, now learning the truth about how Indigenous people have suffered, would use this knowledge against us. It was a week of tough conversations in my home.

I recognize that this is my son’s story to tell and, traditionally, stories should really be told in winter. But I will say a prayer and ask for forgiveness because I think it is an important story that illustrates the importance of talking about racism with our children. You may be thinking, “My children are not racist. I know my kids.”  Some of you are saying, “We are first or second generation Canadians. We know racism. We are in Canada because we left that behind.”  Maybe you are saying, “This is Canada, Halton or anywhere else. Racism doesn’t happen here.” Yes, it does.

I am closing by recommending resources that I hope will help you talk about racism with children and youth. Start the conversation. It is never too early or too late. Make an effort to understand what they are thinking. Help shape their worldviews to be inclusive of all, respectful, and kind.

Take some time to explore the resources linked below and to do your own web research. The resources are there for you as to use as tools for making change.

How to change systemic racism in Canada. What does racism look like in Canada? Web series called “First Things First“, and produced by TVO, features Cindy Blackstock, executive director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada. She tells us the story of Jordan River Anderson and why she continues to fight the Canadian government to gain rights for Indigenous children.

What needs to change to end systemic racism in Canada towards Indigenous peoples. Anne-Marie Mediwake of CTV’s Your Morning show interviews former MKO Chief Sheila North who reacts to some Canadian politicians denying systemic racism.

How can I help? Eddy Robinson is an educator on Indigenous issues. In this TVO web series called “First Things First”, Robinson explains why asking “How Can I Help?” is not the right question.

Racism: Indigenous Perspective with Senator Murray Sinclair. How and why do the impacts of history persist? How racism is directly or indirectly manifested in our society?  What are our obligations to address racism? How do we reconcile divisions created by racism? How do we directly or indirectly reinforce racism?  How is racism holding us back? In this video Canadian Centre for Ethics in Public Affairs explores these questions with Senator Sinclair.

21 Things You May Not Have Known About the Indian Act. Activist and author, Bob Joseph, looks at some of the restrictions and impacts imposed on First Nations (some have since been removed in revisions of the Act).

Do you know why June is special at Our Kids Network?

It is National Indigenous History Month and We are Celebrating!

By Angela Bellegarde, Our Kids Network Indigenous Lead

June is one of the best months of the year! Children and youth look forward to summer and celebrate the end of school. Families look forward to vacations and engaging in outdoor pursuits. This year, Canadians are faced with an entirely new way of spending the summer months, so how about taking the opportunity to discover and learn more about the Indigenous people of Canada?

Three adolescent children of Indigenous heritage.

So where do you start?

Canada.ca
The Government of Canada website National Indigenous History Month section is a good place to begin your journey. Make your first stop at the Indigenous History-Makers section and meet Métis author, Cherie Dimaline, Jesse Cockney, an Olympic Inuvialuk cross-country skier, and Dr. Nadine Caron, a member of the Sagamok Anishnawbek First Nation and Canada’s first female First Nations general surgeon…and many more. These amazing individuals are just a few of the innumerable Indigenous people making Canada and the world a better, more interesting and more creative place to live.

ourkidsnetwork.ca
The Our Kids Network website Indigenous Reconciliation section is another great place to look for resources. Want to do a territorial announcement at your next meeting or event? We have a whole section to assist you. (Scroll to the bottom of the page.)

This just the beginning, friends!

In the coming weeks, Our Kids Network will be engaged in many activities to help you learn more about our Indigenous Reconciliation Initiative.

Check your inbox frequently for new messages. Follow us on Twitter @OurKidsNetwork. If you haven’t already, subscribe to our blog to learn about the exciting ways Our Kids Network is celebrating National Indigenous History month!

Aniin, Bozhoo, Sekon, Tansi, and Tawow!

Hello and Welcome…
You just took the first step in the journey of Indigenous Reconciliation.
Are you ready to move a mountain?

By Angela Bellegarde, Our Kids Network Indigenous Lead

What does Indigenous Reconciliation have to do with helping children and youth thrive? The answer may not be obvious at first, but the two concepts are, in fact, quite connected. Our Kids Network (OKN) has always been at the forefront of supporting community partners to identify issues and facilitate collaborative strategies and action. The Asset-Building movement, Early Years Initiative, the Early Years Mental Health Toolkit and the OKN Data Portal 2.0 are all examples of OKN and community led initiatives and strategies that support children and youth to thrive.

OKN is once again working on a critically important initiative; an Indigenous Reconciliation Strategy that will educate and engage OKN community partners in one of the most important and transformative movements in Canadian history.

A toddler-age girl holds her parents' hands and has a big smile as they walk through the park together.

Think about the Children

Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) should be familiar to you and all Canadians by now. And perhaps you’ve heard about Residential Schools…

Well, in 2008, the TRC began its work to hear from thousands Indigenous people who attended the 130 Residential Schools that were in operation across Canada between 1831 and 1996. The purpose of the schools was to assimilate Indigenous children into the non-Indigenous way of being. The brutality experienced by these children has resulted in generations of Indigenous people struggling with lasting trauma.

Think about it for a minute. If you have children in your life right now, how would you feel if they were forcibly taken away from you by the government for the entire school year? You would have very little opportunity to teach them your values, traditions, and culture. Think about it from the children’s perspective. It is so difficult to imagine how afraid and confused they felt to be forced away from the people they trusted and loved, and the places where they were growing up …all at the hands of Canadian government officials. Unfortunately, I can imagine it because my father was a survivor of the Residential School System, as were my aunts and uncles. By now we are all aware of the reasons for the term Residential School Survivor.

The time is now to develop your knowledge of Indigenous people in Canada. You can visit the National Center for Truth and Reconciliation.

So Why is OKN Involved in Indigenous Reconciliation?

Well, for a number of reasons. OKN believes in what is stated in the TRC Final Report. That is, in order for Canada to flourish in the twenty-first century, reconciliation between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people must be based on the Ten Principles of Reconciliation. We must be inspired to transform Canadian society so that our children and grandchildren can live together in dignity, peace, and prosperity on these lands we now share. (www.trc.ca)

OKN has a critical role to play in this goal by developing a Halton-wide Indigenous Reconciliation Strategy that is informed by the 94 Calls to Action and work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). Our substantial network of agencies that support children and youth can be successful in honoring the Calls to Action through collective impact.

We know that the Residential School System has left a legacy of inter-generational trauma. One in four First Nations children live in poverty compared to 1 in 9 of other Canadian children. We know that Indigenous children in Halton and Canada are over represented in foster care. First Nations children more frequently come into contact with child welfare as a result of neglect and risk factors associated with poverty rather than referrals for physical or sexual abuse.

With an Indigenous Reconciliation Strategy in place, OKN and its community partners can play a significant role in ensuring that ALL children and youth in Halton thrive, including Indigenous children.

Increase your Indigenous literacy by exploring OKN’s Indigenous Reconciliation Strategy at OKN Indigenous Reconciliation.