Jingle Dress Dancing, A Gift From the Ojibwe Tribe

Jingle dress dancing is a tradition that was given to us by the Ojibwe tribe. The Ojibwe tribe is located near the Great Lakes area. Mahala Sutherland is a jingle dress dancer from the Navajo Nation who educates students about powwow dancing.

Mahala Sutherland joins us to explain to us what jingle dress dancing is. Mahala is a professional jingle dress dancer from the Navajo Nation who dances at powwows all around the country. She was introduced into the powwow circuit by one of her Ojibwe friends. Mahala was the first-ever indigenous person to win homecoming royalty at Southern Utah University. Southern Utah University has a land acknowledgement where they state their honor of the Paiute tribe, whose land their university is on.

Story of Jingle Dress Dancing

Jingle dress dancing is a series of intricate footwork. The style of dress was said to have come to fruition in an Ojibwe man’s dream one night as a solution to help his sick granddaughter. The Ojibwe’s man wife sewed the dress that came to him in his dream. The sick granddaughter was able to walk and even dance along again in the story.

The story of jingle dress dancing can vary from person to person or family to family, since it is an oral tradition. Oral tradition means that the story is passed down just by telling it to the different generations. Kind of like a game of telephone, but within an entire culture about a sacred story.

Mahala Sutherland jingle dress dancer from the Navajo Nation. Dressed in traditional regalia and holding a boquet, winning homecoming royalty at SUU.
Mahala Sutherland, jingle dress dancer. Photo courtesy of SUU’s Diversity and Inclusion Center.

Mahala always dreamed of being a Native American dancer, but never did until she went to college. Ms. Sutherland is a great example of how it is never too late to make your dreams come true! Now she has made history as the first homecoming royalty as Southern Utah University.

Jingle dress dances usually have 365 metal cones that “jingle” while the dress is shaking. The sound of the cones is meant to represent raindrops on a tin roof. An extra secret cone is hidden in the dress, where only the maker of the dress and the dancer knows where the secret cone is. The extra cone is meant to represent the leap year. The dresses can be heavy and dancing in them is quite a workout!

Jingle Dress Dancing Classroom Resources

Learning about jingle dress dancing can be a fun classroom activity for indigenous peoples’ day. The resources below can be used while listening to the podcast.