A regalia lending library in a First Nation in New Brunswick recently received a donation of a jingle dress from the other side of the country.
The donor, Dawn Brennan, wrote in an accompanying letter that she had seen in the news that Amlamgog/Fort Folly First Nation had a regalia lending library and wanted others to enjoy her family’s toddler-size jingle dress, which she sent from Vancouver, more than 5,000 kilometres away.
She wrote that both of her nieces wore the dress until they outgrew it.
“I hope the dress brings joy and gets lots of dancing opportunities as it did for us,” wrote Brennan in the letter.
Now the dress is part of the lending library in the Mi’kmaw community 30 kilometres southwest of Moncton.
Nicole Porter, the cultural co-ordinator for Mi’gmaq Child and Family Services, has helped organize the lending library in her community.
She was stunned to find out someone across the country was willing to share with them.
“I was honoured that they we’re willing to donate that dress to the youth that don’t have regalia,” said Porter.
“And that it came from B.C., I was like, ‘Oh my goodness, that’s amazing.'”
Porter said one of the challenges they face is the community is largely disconnected from Mi’kmaw culture, though in recent years they’ve fought to bring it back.
The library started as away to ensure community members had access to ceremony, as some ceremonies require traditional regalia. Community members can go to the Nukumi House, pick out a piece of regalia that fits and that they like and walk out with it.
She said the community brings in knowledge keepers and elders from other reserves to revitalize the traditional knowledge, but reconnecting community youth to powwows, ceremony and traditional knowledge is joyful.
“Seeing these kids as they come up, they get that excitement in their eyes and wanting to learn something new,” said Porter.
“That right there is what I want others to get from this library.”
She said when she got the jingle dress from B.C., she brought it over to the Headstart program and the kids couldn’t wait to try it on, including Thea Knockwood.
Michelle Knockwood said her three-year-old daughter has been learning cultural knowledge since she was one.
Thea is learning to sing, drum and dance in a traditional way and while Thea learns, Michelle is learning, too. She grew up off-reserve with no cultural connection.
“Not having that connection to who you are, it leaves a hole in your soul, almost, and there’s this empty feeling,” said Knockwood.
“By bringing this back to our communities and families, it’s starting to fill that hole.”
Porter said she’s hoping for donations of fabric and wants to build up the powwow regalia, so youth have access to that, too.