Indigenous jingle dress dancing goes 'viral' on social media to help heal the world

The jingle dance is being performed on social media platforms across Canada and the United States to heal and offer prayer for the world facing the COVID-19 pandemic.

One could even say the videos are going 'viral,' although that internet definition now takes a backseat to the word's original meaning in the face of dangerous coronavirus.

Shyla Tootoosis has received electronic messages from as far away as Texas, Germany and New Zealand. Tootoosis, 11, is one of hundreds of young girls who have, with the assistance of their parents, posted videos of themselves dancing and praying in their jingle dresses. 

"It's a really beautiful dance that provides healing," said Tootoosis, who is from Thunderchild First Nation in Saskatchewan. "When I was growing up I was always taught to pray for one another, and it was a true honour to pray for the world." 

Jingle dresses worn by women and young girls are commonly seen on powwow trails across North America. The dresses have metal cones stitched into rows or elaborate designs that jingle when the person moves. 

The shape and sound of the jingles is said to spread healing, whether dancing for one person or a whole nation. 

'Dance that provides healing' 

Call outs for jingle dress owners to dance in their yards for victims of the COVID-19 pandemic spread on social media. The videos offer light in these unprecedented times, say its practitioners.

"When we saw the call for jingle dress dancers on Facebook, I showed Shyla right away," said Shyla's mother Fatima Tootoosis. "She's always taken on that responsibility and is the only jingle dress dancer in our family." 

Kree Spence, 6, another young girl who took part in the call out for healing in Thompson, Man., said jingle dancing makes her feel happy and she hopes it helps other people feel better, too.

Her mother Charlene McIvor, who also has a five-year-old, said she and their father tell the children about Mother Earth and the pollution in the world.. 

'For Mother Earth'

"Their dad teaches them Cree and talks to them in Cree so we keep that culture," said McIvor. "We always want to keep her involved." 

McIvor said when she asked Kree why she wanted to dance, she said, "for Mother Earth. I want this virus to be over." She added that she also has to go back to school to learn because she has a lot of homework to do, her mom said.

"It was just nice that she was able to [dance] and bring happiness," McIvor said. "There's still good out there right now."

'The call out' 

Liz Salway, from Fort Washakie, Wyoming, in the Wind River Reservation, posted a call on Facebook on Tuesday evening for jingle dress owners to dance on their front porches at 9 a.m. the next day. The response was overwhelming. Girls and women of all ages took up her challenge. 

Salway said she had numerous dreams in 2017 about the healing dance. Last year, at their community powwow, she saw the effect the healing dance had on diabetics and she became a real believer, she said. 

As people began self-isolating, she was trying to figure out a way to get the dance out to the masses. 

Although Salway is not a dancer herself, she has granddaughters who are jingle dress dancers, so she took to social media tagging friends and family members. 

"We're not only doing this for ourselves, but we're doing this for the world because we need to be able to fight this sickness together and our native ways are the best ways to fight it."

With files from Samantha Macaig