Be the First Generation

Sarah Howes

Posted on February 05 2020

I didn't grow up in a wigwam. Shocking, I know. I grew up on Reservation Road.  That is not a metaphor.  I LITERALLY grew up on Reservation Road.  In my great grandparent’s house using the little yellow outhouse.

Saturday I met an elder who very proudly and sweetly glowed about her granddaughter.  She told me she is a sixth generation jingle dress dancer.  I told her that is amazing... and I am grateful their family made it so far intact. 

But my reaction to her was tainted with a little bit of jealousy, resentment, and shame.  She left me wondering whether I am worthy of this dress, this dance, this way of life…

To my knowledge there are no jingle dress dancers in my family.  I can trace my Anishinaabe family back to Madeline Island, our pre-treaty homeland and on the Muscogee side to the east coast past the trail of tears.  Not a jingle dress in there.  What I can trace are mothers, housemaids, boarding school survivors, veterans, and whittle their way down to me. 

My grandmother was not a maker.  She was the last language speaker in our family, cut off by years of Red Lake Boarding School.  

I did not grow up in a sea of song and ceremony. I grew up reliving my father’s grief over so much loss.  Growing up on my Rez was neither totally tragic nor mystical. It was just REAL.  People trying to survive, trying to make it work, trying to care for these babies.  

At sixteen a friend brought me to my first powwow.  We did “the walk” of the loop over and over. And the overwhelming feeling I had was of betrayal. How could this be happening right under my nose and no one showed me?  Noone took me?  All these beautiful families, singing, dancing, laughing in one place and I’d had None of it. 

And it changed me.

Through many twists and turns I became a first generation jingle dress dancer.  And now my daughter is the second.  We can no longer allow shame or assimilation to disconnect us with our inheritance.  Dancing is just one small thing.  A gateway for me into a life so different than the one I knew.  

We are the first generation to have this incredible option to choose a life of Thriving over Surviving.  Our grandma's did so much for us to be here.

That elder kept something sacred safe for us.  Take a risk.  Connect.  Your way may be completely different than mine.  Find your beating heart in the ground.  When you find it you’ll know.  You’ll feel that heart racing-pounding back inside your chest.

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2 comments

  • Jane Borgren: April 02, 2020

    What a lovely and powerful story! I met a Canadian woman years ago, so proud, having survived through so much. Canadian boarding school. Reformation. Monies handled by someone for her because she couldn’t handle it herself. Lots of trauma in her life. One day she showed me two old jingle dresses hanging in her closet. She was so beautiful, handled those dresses and their history in her family very gingerly, with pride and love.

  • Jennie Martin: April 02, 2020

    Beautifully said! These ceremonies and cultural events are for all of us, do not hesitate just jump in! You are welcome.

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