Modern Native American Dancing: Stepping For The Family

Aug 4, 2017

To wrap up Artown, the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony held a cultural celebration this week. American Indians have called the Great Basin home for thousands of years and their cultural impact is long-lasting. Our reporter Holly Hutchings talked to three performers who show that the tradition of dancing is really a family affair.

Many different groups participate in a celebration of art, food, music and dance. Far from the stage, women are braiding their hair and putting on colorful dresses adorned with clinky metal cones. That’s where I find three generations of women getting ready to entertain and connect with the audience.

Three generations of the Stump family wait to go onstage to dance.
Credit Holly Hutchings

“Hi, I'm Bridgette Stump. I'm a Jingle Dress Dancer with the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony Pow Wow Club,” Stump said. “I am performing the jingle dress dance. I follow under my Auntie's steps. I grew up on jingle dress so it's just there for me and I grew up on it, and I just love jingle dress dancing. It's a medicine dance. It's originally 365 jingle cones on the dress to represent every day of the year. It comes from the Ojibwa Tribe.”

Bridgette’s jingle bell dress is long and pink. She has been coming to pow wows since before she could walk. As a high school graduate, many activities and pursuits could fill her time, but she finds herself continually drawn to this calling.

“When you can't dance for the people, you want to dance for the people. It's a medicine dress, you're helping other people. You're healing them. Back awhile ago they had, what this is called, the medicine healing dance. That's what we do. We're healers,” she adds.

The Paiute tribe this family belongs to has a long history in Northern Nevada. Representatives from the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony say one of their relatives, who now rests in Lovelock, was carbon dated by scientists and dates back nearly 10,000 years.

Bridgette’s aunt, Lorri Chasing Crow styles Bridgette’s hair into two long French braids, as they prepare to go onstage to perform a dance that has been around for 150 years.

Bridgette Stump gets her hair braided by her Aunt Lorrie Chasing Crow.
Credit Holly Hutchings

“I've danced for 30 years of my life coming from my mom. She took us to pow wows. Getting our kids into it, it's kind of a hereditary thing. We make our own outfits and get our kids involved. But we don't push them into dancing, it's something they want to have to do,” Chasing Crow says.

The rainbow of dresses worn by the all-female group hold special meaning. The Stump family designs their attire and makes beaded accessories.

Chasing Crow tells me about the design she is wearing.

“My dress is more modern like nowadays. My main colors are blue-I chose blue because it's the color of the sky. The red, orange and yellow with my bead work comes from my Chippewa Cree side, my family in Montana. My Aunt from Montana, she made us moccasins. My mom, she learned how to bead the design from my Aunts,” she says. “It's like, it's called the Bear Paw Mountains, that's where our design originated from. So, that's what, it's like a family design, that's what I go with.”

Janice Stump is the matriarch of this family as Lorri’s mother and Bridgette’s grandma. She says the dances are tributes to loved ones above everything else.

“If you talk to them and ask them why they dance, they say, ‘because my mom said’ or something like that, but they don't know that they're really stepping for their family. They're stepping for their family. That’s what it's all about,” she says.

Despite the impact of these traditions, that have endured thousands of years, she has faced challenges engaging her kids and grandkids at times. Even with modern distractions, this grandma has found that they usually come back to their roots.

“But, you know, we sit and sew. We turn that TV off,” she says. “I tell everybody, turn your phone off. Let's finish this first, then I give them a break and they can do what they want. Then we go back to sewing again because that's how you get things done. You know, making these things, it takes a couple months to make them. It does. Months. And it's just, trying to talk them into having more better time management.”

Janice says it’s rewarding to slow down and take time to create and wear their tribal designs. She wants the rising generation to develop patience and an appreciation of the importance of quiet time. This will help them learn their tradition.

Dancers of all varieties join together to entertain crowds at the Pow Wow.
Credit Holly Hutchings

The Reno-Sparks Indian Colony will host another celebration called the Numaga Pow Wow over Labor Day weekend. The event will be help September 1-3 in Hungry Valley and is free to the public.

Holly Hutchings is a senior at the Reynolds School of Journalism at UNR.