Ern Tobaccojuice, wearing her jingle dress regalia at the Samson Cree Powwow. Photo by Chevi Rabbit Chevi Rabbit, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

In Maskwacis last month, the 2023 Samson Cree Nation Celebration Powwow was graced by Ern Tobaccojuice, a champion powwow dancer from Red Pheasant. What sets her apart is her unique journey into the powwow community, shared by her uncle through a traditional initiation. Yet, her distinction goes even further; she is an ardent advocate for mental health. Her mission? To foster healing and confront the deep intergenerational trauma in her Red Pheasant family.

Tobaccojuice’s words resonate with determination, “I want to dance, and I had my family initiate me. Besides my uncle, I’m one of the only dancers from the Tobaccojuice family.”

Ern’s journey, however, transcends the dance floor. She is a formidable advocate for mental health, relentlessly striving to mend the ancestral wounds that haunt her family’s legacy.

Jingle dress dancing, a sacred and revered tradition in Indigenous cultures, shines as a beacon of hope and healing. Rooted in centuries of history, this captivating dance form has bridged generations. It is now gaining well-deserved recognition for the profound benefits it bestows, not only upon the dancers themselves but upon the entire community.

At its core, the jingle dress is adorned with hundreds of tiny metal cones that produce a gentle, tinkling sound as the dancer moves. This enchanting auditory rhythm holds a near-magical sway, that brings onlookers and participants into a shared trance of unity and harmony. One of the most remarkable aspects of jingle dress dancing is its profound impact on mental health. Ern Tobaccojuice, a true luminary in this art form, attests to the therapeutic qualities of this dance.

For Tobaccojuice, the journey has not been without its challenges, as she elaborates, “My parents are residential school survivors, so it’s hard on my siblings and me. We take care of one another. I dealt with depression for a long time. Coming back to a circle helps with that. It feels like I’m not only healing myself, but I’m healing others.”

The adage “movement is medicine” holds, especially in the context of jingle dress dancing. It can significantly reduce stress, anxiety, and depression—the rhythmic and meditative nature of the dance aids in discovering inner peace and balance. Furthermore, the profound sense of belonging within the powwow community offers a vital support system, facilitating the healing of mental wounds.

Tobaccojuice’s advocacy extends far beyond the dance floor. She emphasizes, “I’m a mental health advocate too. Many people, especially this generation after COVID, seek activities to help their mental health.”

Tobaccojuice’s remarkable journey serves as an inspiration for those seeking solace and strength through their cultural heritage. As she imparts her wisdom and experience to the younger generation, she reflects on her role, “A lot of people look up to me as well, and I try my best,” she said.

When younger people approach her and ask for advice, especially if they want to dance, she is very encouraging. “I wish I could help all the kids,” she added. “More funding for cultural activities like your community’s initiatives would be great.”

Ern also offers classes within her community to teach and enable others to create their own group regalia.

Her story is one of hope and healing, illuminating the transformative power of cultural heritage, dance, and advocacy in building resilience and fostering mental well-being within Indigenous communities. As jingle dress dancing gains recognition for its therapeutic benefits, it becomes evident that traditions deeply rooted in culture and society can wield profound tools for healing the mind and soul.

Tobaccojuice concludes the interview by calling for increased community programs and services to help pay for the cost of regalia for vulnerable families.

By Chevi Rabbit, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Sep 17, 2023

This item reprinted with permission from   Alberta Native News   Edmonton, Alberta

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