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3/18 Ojibwe Stories - Gaganoonididaa: Jingle Dresses, John Beargease

Larry Amik Smallwood

Ojibwe Stories: Gaganoonididaa this month features a story (in both Ojibwe and English) by Larry Amik Smallwood, a language instructor at the University of Minnesota Duluth, about Ojibwe jingle dresses. Also, an interview with Ron Boshey, a great-great grandson of John Beargrease, who talks about the significance of the opening ceremony of the annual John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon.


3/18 Ojibwe Stories: Gaganoonididaa - Jingle Dresses

Our guest for this program are Ron Boshey and Larry Amik Smallwood.

Ron Boshey is the great-great-grandson of John Beargrease. He offers the prayers and the pipe ceremony at the beginning of the race and he is part of the Burntside Lake Singers. Recently, he invited KUMD's Lisa Johnson into his home to talk about his great-great-grandfather, the power of prayer, and how the music of the drum can bring people together.

Larry Amik Smallwood grew up in Aazhoomoog, the Lake Lena District of Mille Lacs. He has worked as a language instructor for the Minneapolis Public Schools, Nay Ah Shing School, the Leech Lake Tribal College, and the University of Minnesota - Duluth. Since 1999, he has served as the director of language and culture for the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe.

Gaganoonididaa is produced by KUMD-FM and the Department of American Indian Studies at the University of Minnesota Duluth, with funding provided in part by a UMD Strategic Initiative Grant from the Chancellor's Office of UMD, and by Eni-gikendaasoyang - the Center for Indigenous Knowledge and Language Revitalization at the University of Minnesota Duluth.

Ojibwe language-related content in this episode:

A gesture meant to honor John Beargrease and keep the other mushers safe on the trail. Rod Boshey is the great great grandson of John Beargrease. He offers the prayers in the pipe ceremony at the beginning of the race and he is a member of the Burntside Lake Singers. Recently he invited KUMD's, Lisa Johnson, into his home to talk about his great great grandfather the meaning of ceremony and how the music of the drum can bring people together.


Number one John Beargrease is my great great grandfather and my great grandmother was Rosie Beargrease Strong She married George Strong. But, anyway Billy Blackwell came to me one day and he says Ron He says I need you to do the Beargrease next year. And I told him I said I can do that. And he says. It's time for me to go and walk on the roads so I started doing the opening ceremony and I used to going down there just with my pipe and my spiritual items that I carry and I do the pipe ceremony. Then they asked me for a drum you know if we could sing some songs some special songs so my brother Joe he is a drum keeper of our Burntside Lake Singers We call them are our drum.


Anyway, I asked him to come and come and do that. So, anyway I started doing the opening ceremony and then finally one day I told him I said John Beargrease was my great great grandfather and they were like, Wow you know he has you know, and I'm like yeah. You know it was this and I explained that Rosie Beargrease was my great grandmother. I said she was my mother's grandmother. I said and I remember her you know her stories, her winter stories, I said you know we and my mother you're supposed to pass them down to us. So, that's how I got started in the Beargrease and I've been doing that every year for the past 8- 9 years.


And it's an honor because when we do when we do that ceremony in there there's hundreds of people that are dabbling away you know in talking reminiscing about I don't know well but when that ceremony starts you could hear a pin drop that's the respect that they're giving us. When I do that pipe and we do them songs and some of them songs are our you know are touching and some of them songs can do that to certain people you know and it will make a little bring tears and choke them up once in a while you know. And there are certain songs that do that but we sing. We know we honor John Beargrease, we go at the start of the race and everybody that goes runs race they go out there and they put the tobacco down by his grave site out there It's all this kind of stuff that's what we do and we and the Beargrease I tell the mushers when I'm gone I pray for all my friends and relatives.


And my relatives are the ones that crawl and the ones that swim. All living beings and that's why I always pray for that and I always pray for myself last. Just because like I'm first in someone else's prayers. When they do that ceremony his spirit, we believe, his spirit is there you know and so we believe John Beargrease is there. So, we always let his sled go first and lead the way and then the mushers go off and that's why that night when I do that ceremony that night I pray for that that that he leads the way and that he sees that the trail is OK that there's no harm coming to the mushers and then the dogs you know I pray for the dogs you know I pray for them too because but yeah he we believe that very strong.


It's the heartbeat, we call that we call it the heartbeat of our people you know the mother earth. All of that stuff came from the earth; the wood, the animal gave his life so that we can put the skin over the drum and that drum the drum came like I said came from the women.

They made that drum and then they had these songs and they gave them to the men for their warriors there to protect them and hold the songs and then and then we have the traveling song you know that song means to go but to come back safe. Have a safe journey and a safe return.


Our one song that we sing to towards the end and then we have we sing just like maybe an honor song. You know what an honor song does?  It honors everybody. You know the way things are nowadays you know. And I hear you're a dumb Indian you know. You hear this you hear that, you know labeling you know stereotype. But a little too, we know you know and in our hearts and in our blood you know we are all one people and its honor songs we honor.


Not only our people but we honor all people. You know, when you hear I mean my cousin and I'm growing up one time.  We bought bleach and we were going to go in the woods and wash up with the bleach so we could be white. So, we wouldn't get teased at school and called names. My mother stopped us and she said where you guys going with that? So, he told her what we're going to do. And she said someday you get an education and you get away from this reservation she said. People are going to come to you because you're Native American they're going to want to learn from you and that's the way we are we here and in them songs we're opening a door to let all people in.


[Larry Amik Smallwood speaking about the Jingle Dress]


I was asked in a proper way to tell a story about Ojibwe cultures so I'm going to talk about the Jingle dresses that originated down in the Mille Lacs area, Mille Lacs Lake. And I was given tobacco and that's the proper way to be asked to do something so I'm going to do that. The Jingle Dress is a Spiritual Dress I've heard many times that it came from the Mille Lacs area and I did some research on it that it did.


But I am going to tell this original story in Ojibwe but I might translate when I finish here.


Apane iko ingii-noondaan iniw ziibaaska’iganan gii-pi-onjikaamagak widi Misi-zaaga’iganing.

Mewinzha ko ingii-pi-noondaan i‘iw apane. Ingoding dash igo gaa-izhi-gagwejimagwaa ingiw chi-aya’aag, “Geget na gii-onzikaamagad o’ow ziibaaska’igan omaa Misi-zaaga’iganing?”

“Geget, geget” gii-ikido akiiwenzii bezhig ko aw gagwejimag


Mii a’aw mewinzha omaa gii-niimi’idiwaad imaa niisaakii gii-ikido mii imaa gaa-taad a‘aw akiwenzii. Ingoding dash igo gaa-izhi-maajitaad ezhi-goo…gii-pawaajiged izhi-maajii-pawaajig - namanj daso-dibik gaa-pawaanaagwen iniw ikwewan niiminid. Ogii-mayaagaabamaan giiwenh, ogii-mayaagitawaan giiwenh. Mii dash igo namanj daching gaa-pawaanaagwen.


Ingoding idash gaa-izhi-wiindamawaad iniw owiiwan, “apane nimbawaanaag ingiw kwewag niimiwaad.” “Wenda-mayaginaagoziwag mii i’iw wenda-ma’iganaagoziwag gaa-niimiwaad mayagi-izhinaagwadini ge iniw ogoodaasiwaan” gii-ikido iidog. “Aaniish gaa-izhinaagwak? odigoon iniw owiiwan. “Oonh, bezhig gii-ozhaawashkwaa miinawaa gii-ozaawaa miinawaa gii-miskwaawan naage gii-ozhaawashkwaa bezhig, bakaan igo gii-apagoziwag” gii-ikido. Gaawiin igo apagizowin apagizosiiwag nawaj igo jepi-bagizowag niigaan keyaa izhishimowaad. “Gaawiin ge azhetaasiiwag” gii-ikido. Mii eta go, mii eta go iniw ogoodaasing gaa-piizikamawaajin naa iniw bashkwegino-makizinowaan miinawaa ge naage odakonaawaan i’iw mooshwensiwaan i’iw mashkimodensiwaan.


“Pane nimbawaanaag ingiw.” Miish iidog gaa-izhi-ikidod a‘aw ikwe, “indaga inga-nandomaag ingiw ikwewag omaa aanind eyaajig besho inga-ozhitoomin iniw dinowan.”

Mii gaa-izhi-gagwejimaan iniw ikwewan da-bi-wiidookaago- gaa-izhi-ozhitoowaad ingiw ikwewag iniw niizh gaa-inaandegin. Mii dash gaa-kiizhitoowaad a’aw Akiwenzii ge “haaw, gigii-kagwejimaa, aaniish akeyaa gaa-apagizowaad?“  Aansh naa gaa-izhi-waabanda’aad iw wiindamawiyan akeyaa gaa-apagizonid niiminid. Mii dash gaa-izhi-gikendang o’ow ikwe apagizowaad miish go niw ge gaa-izhi-gikinoo’amawaajin gaa-gikino’amawaad aaniind iniw ikwewan gaa-apagizowaad.


“Giiwanijig, giiwanijig, giiwanijiikwewe ge” aw akiwenzii maa nagamod niimi’aad.

Miish ingoding gaa-izhi-niimi’idiwaad omaa ge eta gii maagizhaa gaa-odaanisiwaagwen maagizhaa ge gaa-pami’aawaagwen iniw bezhig ikwezensan. Gaawiin igo aapiji gii-minodosiin iidigo kwezens. Mii widi gaa-izhi-wiijiiwaawaad widi gii-niimi’idiwaad. Miish maa jiigayi’ii gii-namadabid aw ikwezens gii-shingishin, gii-aakozid gayat. Heyaa kiizhitawaa gaa-ishkwaa-asemaakewaad imaa gaa-ishkwaa-bagijigewaad. Miish gaa-izhi-dibaajimod a’aw akiwenzii gaa-inaabandang.


Mii dash gaa-izhi-nandomaad iniw ikwewan “ahaaw dash maa bi-biindigeshimog omaa” da waabanda’aawaad ongow anishinaabeg keyaa gaa-inaabanjigeyaan. Miish a’aw gii-maajiiwebinigewaad zhigwa gii-nagamowaad maajii-amowaadin iniw nagamonan gaa-aabajitoowaad. Wah! Mii waanda-jiigishimowag ingiw ikwewag niiwin.

Mii waanda-minwewewin ge iniw biiwaabikoonsan imaa gaa-tidibiigidamawaajin imaa aagwaa’amawajin. Jaangaakwenido ikwezens gaa-aakozid iidog. Ayenaabin waabandang aaniin keyaa wenzikaamagak i’iw nwaandang. Onji-chikitaan gaa-izhi-waabamaad niiminid iniw.  Mii iw ge apii zhigo iniw onaagoshininig mii zhigo gaa-izhi-namadabid aa zhigo onishkaad imaa gaa-zhingishing gaa-izhi-namadabid ganawaabamaad iniw ikwewan.


Mii dash igo zhigwa enbi-ishpi-dibikadinig mii go zhigo gewiin o’ow kwezens zhigwa besho gii-naazikawaad iniw naanimijin iniw ziibaaska’iganan gaa-piizikamawaadin. Mii imaa gii-wiijishimotawaad biinish igo gaa-ishkwaa-niimiwaad imaa.


Mii i’iw keyaa gaa-inaajimotawid o’ow. Akiiwenzii miinawaa igo bezhig mindimooyenh ingii-kagwejimaa geyaabi go bimaadizi omaa ishkoniganing gaa-wiindamawid I’iw, naage akiwenziban gaa-wiindamawid. Miish I’iw ingoding widi keyaa Gaa-waabaabiganikaag gaa-izhinizha’igaadeg i’iw. Aanind niw bezhig ziibaaska’igan miinawaa ge omaa giiwedinong keyaa awas imaa ishkoniganan ayaamagadoon imaa awas imaa Fort/ International Falls, ezhi-wiinjigaadeg, dibi imaa besho ayaamagadogwen ishkonigan mii widi gaa-izhishinomowaad ike bezhig


Mii dash gii-maajiishkaamagak i’iw ziibaaska’iganan. Noongom dash bebakaan izhinaagwadoon ondawaawaasigekaawan geget ge. Gaawiin idash ishimosiiwag gaa-izhishimowaad ko mewinzha zaabaaska’igejig gaa-kizhibaabatoowag ombigwaashkaniwag kina gegoo ozhitaawag gaye. Gaawiin dash wiin iidog i’iw keyaa izhishimosiim I’iw. Mii dash o’o ikwezens gaa-noojimod mii wenji-izhinikaadeg i‘iw iidog manidoowaadad i’iw ziibaaska’igan.


Mii iw minik gaa-izhi-wiindamaagooyaan. Kawe dash inga-zhaaganaashiimotawaag ingiw bezindawijig.


I am going to translate. I am going to translate that in English. I had often heard that the Jingle Dress came from Mille Lacs. So, curiosity got me and by then I was teaching in public schools, teaching a lot of native students, culture and language and I decided that I better check this out. So, I went to Mille Lacs and I approached an elderly gentleman and asked him "Is it true that the Jingle Dress came from Mille Lacs."? He said, "Yes, yes, it is." Down below the hill here in Mille Lacs there was a village and they had an area where they used to have their drum ceremony and their dances. An old man lived there and he started having this dream all the time of these four women dancing.


Four women in the dream they were dancing and they were dancing in these different styles or different colors dresses and they had little metal cones on them. So, he told his wife about that and his wife said maybe we should make those dresses. She said, I'll get some of my friends to come over and we'll make a couple of those dresses. You better do an offering for them.


So, he did and his wife asked them out and they dance in your dream. Well, he showed his wife how they danced. They danced in a rapid forward side to side movement, not dancing backwards or turning around or spinning around or anything like that. They didn't carry anything they just had the moccasins, the dress and the headband and carried a little scarf or a little purse on their hip they held on to.


So, his wife along with a few of those ladies made those dresses and then she taught those ladies how to dance that style like he talked about. And she said well we better bring these out at the next drum ceremony. Which they did. Sometime later they were having a drum ceremony outside and they happened to have a young girl with them.  Didn't know if that was his daughter or granddaughter or what it was. But they took her over there and she was really sick at the time. So, they made a place for her to lay down there while the ceremonies were taking place and the little girl laid there. She was sick. I don't know what was wrong with her but after they got done with their ceremonial portion of their drum doings there he got up and he talked about his dream he said I had my wife make these dresses.


The ladies are going to come out and dance. So, he started singing and he told the singers how the beat went. So, these four ladies came out with the red, the blue, the green and the yellow and they were dancing. And he looked down and he saw that little girl starting to get up, trying to get up to check out what was making that beautiful sound. And as evening went on she eventually sat up from laying down and she was watching those. And the evening kept going and by the time it was getting late into the night that little girl made her way out there and started dancing alongside those jingle dresses. And that is why they refer to it as a healing dress. Now these dancers they don't dance fancy.


They have the basic blue, red, yellow and green and they only carried that little purse and held onto their hip, they didn't carry fans didn't wave their hands in the air or anything like that It was traditional jingle dress. And it carried on. The Mille Lacs people sent those dresses, a couple of them to a White Earth. We had relatives in White Earth at the time. This came about in 1900 give or take a few years. They sent one or two of those dresses up to White Earth because we had relatives there and then from there our White Earth people gave them to our friends in the Dakotas.


And also, the Mille Lacs Band sent the dress up to a reserve north of International Falls I'm not sure which reserve it is. They had one of the colors. So from there, it started. The jingle dress started. And, nowadays they have the contemporary jingle dresses which is all flashy and the ladies are hoping around and they are waving their hands up in air doing the princess wave and all that. They never used to do that. They never carried fans or anything They didn't wear Eagle fluffs they were just plain. And that's how we observed the jingle dress.


One of the things I go to pow wows a lot and sometimes I emcee a lot of pow wows. I hear them request Jingle Dress time. Come on out here, we need a Healing song. So, when you want spiritual help you have to gift those people you ask. So, they asked the Jingle Dress dancers to come out, do a healing song and they give the drum, they pick the drums so the drum sings a song and the Jingle Dress dancers are out there doing their healing song and then when they get done they say "Thank You Jingle Dress Dancers". Well the Jingle Dress dancers go back and sit down and they give the drum money and tobacco.


So, it was the Jingle Dress dancers that was doing the healing and they're not gifted. They should be gifted tobacco and a gift if they're asked to come and do some spiritual help and I see that a lot in pow wows. I have said something at a couple of pow wows when they've asked Jingle Dress Dancers to come out I have said you'd better gift those Jingle Dress Dancers if you want their help. So that's a little bit about what I know about Jingle Dresses.


I asked an elderly gentleman now he's passed on. And the elderly lady that I asked, she's still over in Mille Lacs living healthy. She's quite old but she's healthy and she knows about the jingle dress. So that is what I have to say about the jingle dress. The Jingle Dress Ziibaaka’igan.


What do you know about how, it's correct right, you're only supposed to dance Jingle if you have a dream?


No, no, no anybody can jingle dress dance, but they should know the story behind the Jingle Dress why they're doing it. So, anybody can dance. They don't have to you know. One of the big misconceptions that you have to sew 365 jingles on there and say a prayer for each jingle on there. That's not even the way it was. You know you sew enough jingles on to make a nice sound and that's it.


Has it changed a lot you think over the past from what these elders that you talked to talked about since the original you know going way back?


Yeah yeah. The traditional jingle dresses there out there and a lot of them are dancing traditional but a lot of the majority of them are dancing contemporary and kind of like fancy dances in the jingle dress.


There's a big difference. You know a lot of these jingle dress dances, the traditional dress dancers will go to pow wows, they'll go to competition pow wows and they are overlooked by the judges because they are not out there waving their hand or you know being all flashy and everything.


Traditional jingle dressed dancers are a little more humble you know. I mean is that something the think that people should look for like in contests pow wows like if they were really like I don't want to say judging it correctly but you know what I mean that it would be more emphasis on like you say the older style?


A good judge will look at how the person is dancing OK. The rhythm, the beat, on time with the drum, then the outfit and whatever. Now if he's got a nice traditional dancer out there that is dancing really good and you have a contemporary dancer flying by there. He's going to know the difference you know, which one is which. Then he's going to start watching. She's dancing contemporary, she’s dancing traditional I am going to watch the footwork. I’m going to watch all this. He or she should know the difference.


Is audience dictate a lot of that stuff like there's certain audience expectations who might not be as well versed in the traditional kind of roots of jingle dress or any other kind of dance for that matter I guess. I think you know we go to pow wows like that's what the audience kind of responds to more?


The audience likes the flash.  Yeah, I know they like that boy they are all into that.


And do you think there's pressure is on maybe dancers mostly younger people that kind of give that and then it gets maybe confused where you know it's contests pow wows then they think that's what it I don't know I hate to be one of those like purist type people or suggest that but.


Well there’s nothing wrong with contemporary you know, it looks nice. It’s just that there’s a big difference between contemporary and traditional. People should know that. They’re just not going to stand out in a contest pow wow where people are being judged. Like I said they like the flashiness of the jingle that's why you’ll see some fluorescent orange, green, pink, blue, red. And you’ll see the plain red, blue, green and yellow dresses.


You mentioned the first people they gave the first dresses that they gave were White Earth. I was just wondering if you could talk about the connections there between Mille Lacs and White Earth and maybe as it pertains to the removal. As I understand it certain families when to White Earth, some came back. Did it have anything to do with that?


I just know that we had relatives over there and we just wanted to share with our families. So, we gifted them over there. And then of course you know being good neighbors you know the Lakota and the Dakota people you know sent some of those dresses over there. Then of course like I said like north of there like International Falls.


And we had a group of people come down from up north there about six years ago, five or six years ago and they wanted to find out more about the jingle dresses. So we had some of our elders there and we had we had a descendant of that man that had that dream and she was there and we gifted our neighbors there north of International Falls 4 new dresses in those colors. And they have a big Jingle Dress Celebration up there. Unfortunately, we haven't been able to make it up there because at the same time we have our Hinckley celebration.