Art Heals: The Jingle Dress Project

The Beginning, Our Goal

Our project originated from a dream to unite the beauty of the land and the healing power of the jingle dance during these uncertain times due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The origin of the jingle dance to the Ojibwe people happened during the influenza pandemic of 1918-19. It came as a dream to a father whose daughter was sick with the virus. His dream revealed the new dress and dance that had the power to heal. When the dresses were made, they were given to four women to perform the dance. When the little girl heard the sound of the jingles, she became stronger. By the end of the night she was dancing too.

Our dream is to take this healing power to the land, to travel and capture a series of images to document the spiritual places where our ancestors once walked. Our goal is to unite and give hope to the world through art, dance and culture to help us heal together. We will travel the land and capture a series of powerful images to document spiritual places where our ancestors once walked. I hope you will join us on this spiritual journey, follow us on INSTAGRAM and FACEBOOK for project updates. If you have any questions EMAIL us. If you would like to donate to the project see our Venmo account at Jingle-Dress-Project or click PayPal link below:

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“An extraordinary project envisioned by my friend, Eugene Tapahe, a talented photographer, devoted husband & father and a kind, gentle human being. I share his hope of “uniting the land and the people through art, dance and culture to help us all heal together.””

The Jingle Dress Dancers

The Jingle Dancers: Are two pairs of strong Diné (Navajo) sisters, who believe in this project––so much, they are volunteering their time to make this dream a reality. Erin and Dion Tapahe (my daughters) are Diné (Navajo) from Window Rock, AZ. Sunni and JoAnni Begay are Diné (Navajo) from Pinedale, NM. All are attending college at Brigham Young University (BYU) and Erin recently graduated from BYU. She is pursuing a law degree in human rights. Sunni, Dion and JoAnni are currently at BYU with aspirations to continue their post-graduate education in law and medicine. They are not professional models but are strong examples of Native American women today. They have given much of their time in service and are sharing their native culture through dance. They have danced all over the world: Germany, Switzerland, Brazil, New Zealand, Samoa, Tonga and China. They know the importance of our connection with the land as Native people and were raised to respect the traditions of their ancestors. In the future, they desire to be advocates for Native American people. Our project originated from a dream, a dream to unite the beauty of the land and the healing power of the jingle dance during these uncertain times due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

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JoAnni Begay

When I was younger, I didn't learn very much about my culture and traditions. While attending college these past few years, I have had many opportunities to learn what it means to be a Navajo woman. One aspect I love the most is learning about other Native American's cultural dances. When we perform the traditional Ojibwe Jingle Dance we dance for strength, healing, and comfort for the land and people. When we are on location, after we finish our photo shoots, we dance to leave a blessing of healing. During the COVID-19 pandemic it is especially important to do what we can to take care of others and our land. I hope this project brings healing to the people who need it. -- JoAnni Begay

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Sunni Begay

As we have been on location shooting for this project I’ve reflected a lot on this poem. “Walking, I am listening to a deeper way...Suddenly all my ancestors are behind me. Be still they say, watch and listen, you are the result of the love of thousands...” -Linda Hogan I remember my ancestors and imagine them with me. I remember those who have walked these sacred lands before me. I remember their resiliency, hard work, and love. This project came at a time when the pandemic had cancelled almost every single plan I had for the summer. While my plans hadn’t worked out I realized there were more important things in store for me. As I have had more time to be still. I can see a more eternal perspective. I’m in tuned to things that matter most. Maybe this is a time for healing, reflection and service. Maybe this is the time our ancestors are trying to speak to us; whispering the things we need to hear. I’m honored Eugene Tapahe invited my sister and I to be a part of this project and I hope this project inspires you to take time to listen in a deeper way. -- Sunni Begay

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Dion Tapahe

My elders taught me that everything is connected. We are taught that we come from the earth and the stars, you can't talk about the land without talking about the water, the same as you can't talk about children without talking about our ancestors, I think about the unthinkable sacrifices they endured; from the Long Walk to boarding schools to the irradiation of language and culture. All of these were efforts to us out, yet I am still here. I am a product of resilience, as is every Indigenous person. To me, the jingle dance is a representation of strong resilient women who continue to dance, to heal their communities. I want to represent my people and be a strong link that connects my ancestors to my descendants. -- Dion Tapahe

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Erin Tapahe

“The jingle dress brings true healing. The sounds of the jingles take my troubles away. The sound of the drum ignites a strength in me. I feel alive when I’m dancing. All my worries and insecurities leave. This time of COVID-19 has been challenging for everyone. It hurts my soul to think about how many people are directly impacted. How many feel hopeless. In a time of uncertainty, I think the world needs healing and hope. I want to bring this to the world.” -- Erin Tapahe

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Native Girls Be Like, Natives React

YouTuber, Patrick Willie, invited the girls- Sunni, Erin, Dion and JoAnni- from Art Heals: The Jingle Dress Project onto his Natives React series. This video has received over 190,000 views on YouTube and is one of Patrick's most popular videos. The comment section is filled with positive, uplifting, and encouraging comments about the Art Heals: The Jingle Dress Project.

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Jingle Dress Dancers in the Modern World: Ojibwe People and Pandemics

We are honored our photography and project are featured in this historical documentary on the origins of the jingle dress dance during the pandemic of 1918. How it became a Dakota tradition, and it's role in modern native movements including Standing Rock and Black Lives Matter. We are grateful for Brenda Child and the University of Minnesota for including us in this production. This documentary explores the origins of the jingle dress dance tradition with Ojibwe historian Brenda J. Child, who describes what the tradition means to dancers and Ojibwe people today, and how it has evolved to include modern movements. The interview was conducted in 2019, just before the COVID-19 pandemic began, and features photographs by Eugene Tapahe and the Jingle Dress Project, taken in the summer of 2020.

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“Art Heals: The Jingle Dress Project has an amazing story and the images truly represents the strength and courage of the Native American people. The strong young women that are part of this project set an example for our Native youth. ”

On Location, Jingle Dress Dancers

What do you see? I see, resilience, strength, courage and grace. Behind the scenes, I see their struggles, hardships, and doubts. Since they were born into this world, innocent and loving––unknowing how the color of their skin and being women would influence their future, their dreams. They aren’t professional models, they are everyday people just trying to make it in the world; trying to make a difference through service and education. I have personally witnessed them fall and struggle and seen them gain strength and wisdom from those experiences and turn them into positive outcomes.

Through these uncertain times of COVID-19 and worry of the unknown future, they voluntarily travel, camp, do their homework on their phones, eat cold sandwiches/meals, put their makeup on in the vehicle, and get into their regalia in the wild, because they know it’s not about them. It’s about the healing power of the jingle dance, it’s about healing the people, the land, and the world in these uncertain times. This project started as a dream I had, a dream to unite the world through art, dance and culture. But, it has become something more than that. It has given these four women the courage, the confidence, and the strength to see the world in a different perspective. When I see these girls jingle dance where our ancestors once walked, I see them all dancing together.

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“Art Heals: The Jingle Dress Project has been a huge blessing to me during these times of uncertainty; I’ve reinvented my craft and combined many creative elements to create a harmonious outlook that has captured many people’s hearts. And, it all started from a dream I had.”