Native Fringe Dresses Connect Dance, Art and History | State and regional

Abbi Zapeta, 13, wears her ceremonial jingle dress at the Bois Forte Heritage Center.

Forum news service

Janna Goerdt Forum News Service

TOWER, Minn. – The robe spoke as Abbi Zapata banged her feet on the ground.

It was a soft sound, as rhythmic as shards of ice moving against a thawing shore. It is a century-old sound originating from the Native American tribes of northern Minnesota. Abbi’s ancestors heard the sounds of the fringed robes, and Abbi’s mother Adrienne Whiteman heard them too.

Rows of shiny metal cones gently bounce off each other to the rhythm of Abbi’s footsteps. To Whiteman, it sounds like “rolling water,” or sometimes wind chimes. The tradition of fringed dresses celebrates its 100th anniversary this year. In 1918, as the Spanish flu epidemic killed tens of millions of people around the world, the first fringed dress was born out of a dream.

There are several different origin stories – some say the first fringed dress was made in the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe reserve, or maybe it was in Red Lake or Whitefish Bay. Most stories tell of a man worried about his young daughter, who had been ill and was not recovering, maybe from the flu, maybe not.

This is the story Whiteman knows; that’s the one his grandfather told him. The man dreamed of a dress that made a lot of noise, and this dress would help heal his daughter.

“The man’s wife made the dress and her little girl wore it,” Whiteman said. “She had to dance to four songs. At first, two women had to help him get up. But with each song she got better, until the fourth song, and the women let her go. It was the power of prayer. This is how I know it.

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