Shundiin Whitehorse, 16, filmed her entry for a virtual jingle dress dance contest in just one take an hour before the deadline.
For Shundiin, multiple attempts at the traditional dance were not an option, as she filmed her entry in negative 35-degree weather in Saskatchewan, Canada.
In conjunction with its new art exhibit honoring missing and murdered Indigenous women, the Emerson Arts and Culture Center in Bozeman hosted a virtual red jingle dress contest on Jan. 22-24. The jingle dress dance is popular among Native women and girls and is often performed at powwows as a healing dance.
To participate in the virtual contest, contestants posted jingle dress dance videos on the Social Distance Powwow Facebook page, which formed amid the COVID-19 pandemic in lieu of in-person powwow celebrations.
Videos tagged #EmersonRedDressSDP that garnered the most “likes” won the contest.
Young Indigenous women took center stage in the Emerson’s jingle dress contest, earning first, second and third place. As they celebrated culture and tradition, dancers also spread healing to Native communities afflicted by two crises — the COVID-19 pandemic and the missing and murdered Indigenous women epidemic.
Though Native Americans account for 6.7% of Montana’s population, they comprise, on average, 32% of the state’s COVID-19 deaths and 26% of the state’s active missing persons cases.
Shundiin Whitehorse defies odds, earns second place
Because Shundiin’s entry was submitted just in time for a contest that favored people who uploaded videos, and earned “likes”, earlier, Shundiin’s mother, Tara Whitehorse, warned her daughter that she may not do as well as they had hoped.
But Shundiin, who is Dakota and Navajo, said it didn’t matter. She didn’t care about results — she just wanted to dance.
With just one hour for Facebook viewers to like and share her post, Shundiin defied the odds, earning second place and a $400 prize.
The jingle dress contest, which aims to celebrate traditional dance and bring awareness to the missing and murdered Indigenous women epidemic, received more than 40 submissions from Indigenous women worldwide.
Dan Simonds, Bozeman artist and member of the Pequot Tribe, co-founded the Social Distance Powwow Facebook page when COVID-19 canceled in-person events, like powwows.
The page has since gained nearly a quarter-million followers and serves as an outlet for Indigenous people to express themselves and connect amid the pandemic.
“The page really took off. It just shows when Indigenous people put something into action, how much support we get. It’s an example of that magic that happens when we give back to our community,” Simonds said.
The nonprofit Facebook page hosts various powwow specials with cash prizes to give money back to Native communities, celebrate tradition and educate the public on Native culture. Simonds said the page is funded through grants and partnerships with other organizations.
Because Indigenous communities have been hit hard by COVID-19, Simonds said he hoped the jingle dress dance would provide healing.
“We all need healing and hopefully, some of that medicine shared from dancers will help people. A lot of people have loss and pain, and our page is meant to lift people up,” he said.
Xavi Wagner of the Blackfeet Nation takes third place
Wearing a dress her grandmother made in the 1990s, eight-year-old Xavi Wagner of the Blackfeet Nation took third place and won $200 in the red jingle dress contest.
Xavi’s mother, Snow Wagner, said her mother taught her how to dance, and she, in turn, taught Xavi.
“When I watch her dance, it amazes me. What my mom showed me is instilled in my daughter. It just means so much. I can’t wait to see what more she can do,” she said.
Snow said her family is “very competitive” and would travel nationwide to participate in powwows.
“Even though we can’t travel now, the Social Distance Powwow page helps my family. It really keeps us going. Just putting on our traditional regalia and our beadwork really makes you feel good. We love what we do,” she said.
Snow said when she talked to Xavi about the contest’s focus on missing and murdered Indigenous women, they both got emotional.
“I explained it to her, and it was hard to talk about. But I think it inspired her to do her best,” Snow said. “These kids are living proof that the future is bright; they will carry on our Native teachings.”
Jayla Swallow of the Ogala Lakota Nation earns first place
Jayla Swallow, 10, of the Oglala Lakota Nation took first place in the contest, earning $800.
Jayla lives on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota and danced with a red handprint painted across her mouth, symbolic of the missing and murdered Indigenous women who do not have a voice.
Jayla filmed her video in the middle of a road, and Jayla’s mother, Becky Brown, said her whole family helped with production.
“We call ourselves ‘Team J,'” she said. “Her two sisters and friend looked out for traffic, one recorded, and my youngest daughter is the DJ.”
Brown said Jayla started dancing when she was three years old to help heal her grandmother who is diabetic and in constant pain.
“I used to just send Jayla’s videos to her grandma, but when Social Distance Powwow came, everybody said her dancing made them happy, too. It’s really amazing.”
“We Are Still Here and This is Our Story” at the Emerson Center for the Arts and Culture in Bozeman:
- “We Are Still Here and This is Our Story,” is a group exhibit that honors and advocates for missing and murdered Indigenous people. The exhibit opened at the Emerson Center for the Arts and Culture in Bozeman and will be open through Feb. 28.
- The Emerson is hosting a free “Artists Talk and Tour” event on Tuesday from 6-7:30 p.m. on Zoom. Contributing artists will discuss their work and give a live gallery tour.
- The Emerson is hosting a free discussion panel on Feb. 11 from 6-7:30 p.m. on Zoom.
For more information on the exhibit and virtual events, visit www.theemerson.org.
This article originally appeared on Great Falls Tribune: Emerson in Bozeman hosted a virtual jingle dress contest for Indigenous women