By Toya Stewart Downey, June 4, 2015
It’s long been a desire of Larry “Amik” Smallwood to tell the story he heard growing up of how the jingle dress came to be.
“I used to hear my grandma, Lucy Clark, tell the story of where the jingle dress came from,” said Amik. “Back in ’79 when I worked at Nay Ah Shing, Ben Sam and Fred Benjamin, both now passed on, also told me the story about the jingle dress.”
“I’ve traveled around and heard stories about the jingle dress and they’re all basically the same, but there are some variations,” he said. “I’ve been wanting to do a documentary for the past seven years so we could get the story straight about where the dress originated.”
His goal is about to be realized thanks to the hard work and shared vision of others, including Band members Rick Anderson and Natalie Weyaus.
Later this month the trio, along with other Band members, will begin working on a documentary about the jingle dress.
Rick, an experienced producer, director and videographer, will oversee the taping of scenes for the documentary at the Hinckley Powwow, which will be held June 19–21. They will begin filming during the Grand Entry on June 19.
Filming will continue July 1–2 during an exhibition powwow at the powwow grounds in District I. Rick is seeking Band members, employees and others to participate in the documentary by filling the stands or participating in short interviews. He is also seeking jingle dress dancers for both dates.
Rick and Natalie have worked together previously on another successful documentary, “The People of the Big Lake,” that was a collaboration with Twin Cities Public Television (TPT). For this project, Rick is working as the producer for TPT and will supervise the TV station’s team, including the camera operators. His own company, Eagle Clan Productions, isn’t involved making the documentary.
The title of the 30-minute documentary hasn’t been determined yet and it is not scripted, Rick said, but instead will feature Amik speaking in Ojibwe and telling the story of how the jingle dress came to be. Another narrator will translate the story into English.
“We are really excited about it and we’re excited that it’s coming together so we can tell the Mille Lacs story,” Rick said.
Here’s the story as it was told to Amik:
“About 100 years ago, give or take, a man had this recurring dream and in that dream he dreamt of these four women who were dancing in a certain way. He noticed in the dream there were four colors — red, blue, green and yellow.
After so many times of dreaming, he told his wife about it and she told him maybe we better do something about the dream and she asked him to describe the dresses to her.
She got together with some ladies in the village and they made those dresses according to how they looked in the dreams. The man also showed his wife how they danced in his dreams and the wife then showed the ladies how they danced.
During one of the drum ceremonies, when they had a break, he got up and announced his dream and introduced the dresses and he brought them out.
There was a little girl at the drum ceremonies who was so sick she was laying on a blanket. She was next to the man and his wife, she could have been their daughter or granddaughter. When those ladies started dancing with those dresses she immediately began to look around and stir a bit.
As they danced through the evening eventually she sat up and she kept looking. High into the night, she was up dancing with the ladies in the jingle dresses. That’s why they say it’s a healing dress.
The Mille Lacs people later on gifted the jingle dress to our Canadian relatives and also to White Earth Nation. And then to Leech Lake. The White Earth people gifted the Lakota people the jingle dress and then the story of the jingle dress took off.
Now, the colors of the jingle dress have a connection to the big drum ceremonies, but it was not explained to me.
The traditional jingle dress dancers never carried fans and never wore eagle feather and never wore leggings. They only had a belt and carried a small bag with them. The dancers moved forward and in a rapid side-to-side movement. They didn’t have fancy footwork, didn’t turn around and didn’t back up when they were dancing. They were red, yellow, blue and green dresses and there were shiny little cones on them.
That’s the story that was told to me.”
Band member Pete Gahbow and his drum group will provide music in the documentary. Four women, Darcy BigBear, Chasity Gahbow, Ah-Nung Matrious and Karla Smallwood, will represent the four jingle dress dancers from the old man’s dream.
Six-year-old Arianna Sam, daughter of Herb and Patty Sam, will play the role of the little girl.
Herb and Patty said, “We are happy she is going to be part of this documentary and believe that this story should be told as it really happened.
“Arianna’s part is important because it will show how the dress originated, talk about why it is used, and show how the dress is used through generations of dancers as a healing dress and one that is highly respected.”
Patty and Adrienne Benjamin will be the dressmakers for the film project.
Natalie said the Band, along with a grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board, is financing the documentary that will be shown on Twin Cities Public Television, which is also a collaborator on the project.
“There are stories all over the U.S. and Canada that say the jingle dress originated in their territory or reservation,” said Natalie, who is the grant manager for the arts board funding.
The documentary team meets weekly and will use the summer to complete filming on the project. The group expects the final powwow footage to be shot during the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe Traditional Powwow in August. Then Rick will edit the piece and it should be final by the end of the year.
“The pictures or videos will be historic footage for future generations to see,” Natalie said.
Amik said that while it took time to secure the funding and for all of the pieces to come together, he is pleased it’s finally coming to fruition.
“The documentary will show our history and the protocol of the jingle dress,” he said. “It’s important that our people and our children know the Mille Lacs story of the jingle dress.”
Rick added that the documentary “will be as real as it can be based on the story and when it was first told.”
He said there will be “some updates and scenes filmed in contemporary fashion with music as it is now, but it will also show how far we’ve come today.”
Those who have a personal story to tell about how the jingle dress has influenced their lives, or about their experience as a jingle dancer are encouraged to contact Rick Anderson at firstname.lastname@example.org. He is seeking people to provide a 15-second sound bite that can be considered for the documentary. Please provide a photo and a brief description of what you would like to say.