Tag Archives: Ojibwe

Jingle Dress Origin

Main Piece:

Informant: So the story behind the Jingle Dress dance is about a girl who was really sick and her dad really wanted her to get better. And he had a vision or a dream, one of those two, and if you put a 100 shells on a dress, cause that’s how they used to make them, and if she dances for 21 days, or something like that, then she would be healed. And he did exactly what, uh, it told him to and she was healed. Not they call the jingle dress dress dance a healing dance. But, that’s just like one of the different stories of why it was like that. There are multiple stories and things like that. But that’s the one I heard.

Interviewer: What other variations are there?

Informant: Well, that’s the only one I know, but other people say there are more.


The informant is a ten-year-old Native American girl from the Choctaw, Blackfoot, and Lakota Nations. She was born and raised in Tennessee and frequently travels out west to visit family and friends. She is in fourth grade. She is also an Old-Fashioned jingle dress dancer which originates from the Ojibwe people. It is referred to as a healing dance and can be seen at Native American powwows across the United States and Canada.


During the Covid-19 Pandemic I flew back home to Tennessee to stay with my family. The informant is my younger sister. I asked if she could describe for me the origin story behind the jingle dress dance. 


One of the greatest gifts given to mankind was movement. Along with the ability to think, we are able to actively engage with our environment. As Albert Einstein said, “Nothing happens until something moves.” Dance has long been a part of human culture, and in many cases, a key component in ritual and prayer. The jingle dress dance emphasizes the healing properties that dance can have on the mind and body. There are many variations of this story, such goes folklore. The jingle dress dance comes from the Ojibwe people and can be seen at powwows across the United States and Canada.

The Legend of the Lady Slipper

Many years ago, the Ojibwe tribe thrived in the forests of Northern Minnesota, close to the shore of the Great Lake. One harsh winter, a terrible fever struck the tribe. Many fell ill and the tribe leaders grew worried, wondering how they would find a cure. One day, word reached the tribe that there was a great and knowledgeable medicine woman in the tribe across the lake, who had found an herb that would break the fever. Unfortunately, the weather was frigid and the snow was many feet deep. The journey across the deemed impossible. However, one young woman, who’s mother and younger brother had taken ill came to the elders and volunteered to make the trek. They warned her against it, stating it was far too treacherous. But she insisted. 

Wrapped in furs and wearing moccasins on her feet, she set out into the daunting conditions. She walked for hours, freezing cold, until she at last arrived at the other tribe, just as the sun went down. The tribe took her in and warmed her by their fires. When she explained why she had come – to save her tribe, the medicine woman happily handed her herbs. They tribe asked her to stay the night and rest before returning home, but she insisted that she return that night, desperate to start healing those in her tribe. She set out once again, this time in the dead of night, into a raging storm that had started while she rested. As she walked, her moccasins fell off in the snow, but she did not want to take the time to stop and retrieve them. She continued on, the icy snow crystals cutting her feet. As she walked, she left a trail of bloody footprints in her wake. This journey back was much harder than her first and she grew weary, barely able to take another step. Just as the sun peaked over the horizon, she saw the wigwams of her tribe in the distance. She called out to her people, collapsing in the snow. They rushed to save her, carrying her inside, warming her and bandaging her torn feet. The tribe’s healer took the herbs from the girl and began to make a cure for those suffering from the fever.

Within a short time, the young girl died, but, because of her bravery, the rest of the tribe was saved. The next spring, when the snow had melted, her brother retraced her footsteps, searching for her lost moccasins, desperate for something to remember her by. Although he never found the shoes, in each place where the girl had left a bloody footprint sprouted a beautiful flower. Due to its unique shape, it was named the Ladyslipper.

My friend K told me this local legend. As a native Minnesotan, she has been heard Native American folklore since childhood. She recounts that she first heard this particular tale, “The Legend of the Ladyslipper,” when she was in third grade as a part of a school unit focusing on the history on Minnesota. The Ladyslipper is the official state flower, and this was a tale of how it came to be. K said she remembered this story in particular because she was impressed by the young woman’s bravery and dedication to her tribe and family.

For the definitive version of this legend, see The Legend of the Lady Slipper by Lise Lunge-Larsen

Dead Man’s Trail/Thief’s River Falls

Many years ago, a young Chippewa warrior was wanted for murder. He was exiled from his tribe and took up residency in the surrounding forest. One day, a young Chippewa mother was walking in the forest, carrying her baby, when the man appeared. The woman began to run and he followed suit. As the woman ran, she realized that carrying her child was slowing her down. She stopped by bend in the river and placed her baby nearby so that she could escape, vowing to return for her child. Once she had successfully escaped the warrior, she returned for her child, but found that the baby was gone, swept away by the river. 

She cursed the river, calling it “Thief’s River,” for it had stolen her child from her. She states that some even claim to hear the mother’s cries in the sound of the river and that there have been reports of hikers seeing a young Indian woman in the woods, walking along the river, in desperate search of her baby.

This story was related to me by my friend K, who has lived her entire life in Minnesota, where the Thief’s River is located. She and her family often go camping up near the river and have visited it many times. She remembers first learning the story when she stopped by the Visitor’s Center. One of the employees was giving a presentation on the Chippewa tribe and included this story as part of it. K likes the story, although she admits it is quite sad. I saw it as the ongoing hardship of motherhood, and how in nature survival of the fittest was a harsh reality for Native Americans back then. That’s why her ghost was reported near the river, because it would be a constant reminder for those alive not to do the same mistake she did.