The jingle dress dance represents healing, pride and a spiritual form of wellness in Native American culture.

The dresses, worn by women and girls, are lined with hundreds of metal cones, or "ziibaaska’iganan" in Ojibwe. The cones are traditionally made from rolled-up chewing-tobacco can lids, but are mass-produced today.

As the women and girls dance, the noise of the cones is said to mimic the sound of rain and bring a sense of peace.

“They call it a 'healing dress' because it brings joy to the dance and the sound it makes protects you,” said Duluth Public Schools American Indian liaison Jamie de la Cruz.

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Carmen Gordon, 18, is a senior at Denfeld High School and is a member of the Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa. She’s been jingle dress dancing since she was about 14 years old. After the past year Denfeld and the whole world has had, Carmen wanted to do something to help the school heal, so she went to American Indian liaison J.P. Rennquist with an idea of doing a jingle dress dance on the school grounds. That turned into a workshop with the help of de la Cruz.

“There’s a gift that comes from this dress,” Rennquist said. “I just love that after all of her accomplishments in whatever her life has brought her, Carmen wanted to give something to other people through this dance.”

Denfeld High School senior Carmen Gordon prepares to demonstrate a jingle dress dance Tuesday, June 8, 2021, during a workshop. (Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com)
Denfeld High School senior Carmen Gordon prepares to demonstrate a jingle dress dance Tuesday, June 8, 2021, during a workshop. (Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com)

Carmen said she and her mom made her jingle dress and hand-beaded the yellow and blue bear paws. The dress is yellow with a pattern of small blue flowers. It has hundreds of metal cones and, according to Carmen, is very heavy.

Each dress is said to have its own story, but for Carmen, the story comes from the person who is wearing it.

“The person can dance off whatever bad things they're going through,” she said.

The metal cones on Jamie de la Cruz’s dress bounce as she dances Tuesday, June 8, 2021, at Denfeld High School during a workshop. (Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com)
The metal cones on Jamie de la Cruz’s dress bounce as she dances Tuesday, June 8, 2021, at Denfeld High School during a workshop. (Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com)

The workshop held Tuesday outside of Denfeld was attended by Carmen’s parents, other students and teachers. De la Cruz brought her jingle dress as well and danced with Carmen after giving a brief history about what the dress means to the Native American culture.

Jamie de la Cruz puts away her son’s grass dance regalia following a small Anishinaabe Jingle Dress Dance workshop outside Denfeld High School on Tuesday, June 8, 2021. (Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com)
Jamie de la Cruz puts away her son’s grass dance regalia following a small Anishinaabe Jingle Dress Dance workshop outside Denfeld High School on Tuesday, June 8, 2021. (Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com)

Over the years, the jingle dresses and the dance have become more contemporary in some areas, De la Cruz said, but she believes it is important to keep it more traditional so they remember what is being lost.

As part of a tradition, any graduating senior who is of Native American heritage receives a handmade sash with a strawberry sewn on it to signify to others that Native Americans are still here.

“More and more Native Americans are being taught as people who used to live here, but we’re still here and we’re still a vibrant community,” Denfeld High School teacher Diana Lawrey said.

A strawberry decorates a sash made by the American Indian Education Parent Advisory Committee  and given to Carmen Gordon. (Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com)
A strawberry decorates a sash made by the American Indian Education Parent Advisory Committee and given to Carmen Gordon. (Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com)