How Jingle Dresses Are Being Used to Heal Communities

Navajo photographer Eugene Tapahe's powerful Jingle Dress Project all stemmed from a dream.

As the COVID-19 pandemic began raging across the globe in spring 2020, Navajo photographer Eugene Tapahe had a dream. He was sitting on the grass at Yellowstone National Park (which extends across Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho) and watching bison graze under the setting sun. Suddenly, jingle dress dancers appeared and started performing the traditional Ojibwe healing dance, with the bison slowly joining in. “All of a sudden, I felt like I was at peace,” Tapahe says. “At the time, everything felt hopeless and dismal, and we didn’t really know what was going to happen. But in the dream, I felt a sense of hope and healing.” When he awoke, he wanted to bring that feeling to reality—and to share that feeling of peace with other Indigenous communities suffering too.

And thus, the Jingle Dress Project was born. Tapahe launched the project last year with his two daughters, Erin and Dion Tapahe, and their friends, Sunni and JoAnni Begay, who are also Navajo (the dance is performed by women and Two-Spirit people, and originally derives from the Ojibwe tribe). The four dancers have since been performing the jingle dress dance in various communities across the U.S., with Eugene photographing them along the way. During difficult times, they have been using the dance as a way to uplift communities. “The jingle dress is really important for Native people, and the purposes of healing,” Eugene says. “In our Navajo traditions, we believe that there are four worlds, so each of them represent one of our worlds.” They have brought the dance to 20 national and state parks so far, including Yosemite, Yellowstone, and Central Park—and there’s a specific reason for each one. “When colonization happened, those are the lands that were taken from Native people first,” Tapahe says. “They were plush lands, with food and water.”

Photo: Eugene Tapahe

This story originally appeared on: Vogue - Author:Christian Allaire