Jingle Dress

by Heather Young-Leslie from Jasper, AB
Jun 4, 16

On a late summer morning in 1994 my four year-old daughter dreamed about a pink jingle dress, with green and blue trim.  

Jingle dresses are ceremonial regalia; healing tools which are incorporated into the powwow circuit. A dancer should dream her dress, to know that she's meant to be a jingle dancer.  

1994 was a tough year for us, a year of cancer, family skeletons and hard decisions. A dream about a healing dress seemed like a really good thing, just then.

We worked on her dress all that winter. Ceilidh drew her design in pencil crayons. I sewed. By summer it was done: we had a hot pink dress, with a teal-green waist belt, gauntlets and leggings and silver snuff-tin cones attached with ribbons of blue and green. Oh, it was heavy! But Ceilidh loved it. And she danced in some powwows until the dress was too small. 

In 2001, it was just the right size for my sister's daughter, Teslin. So Teslin became its caretaker. 

Inevitably, our lives took diverse pathways: Ceilidh and I moved out of the country; my sister met and married a park warden. Teslin grew tall and willowy; Ceilidh went to university. 

Eventually, I moved back to Canada. Back to Jasper.

Every summer, Jasper National Park celebrates Aboriginal Days. So, in June of 2010, I offered Ceilidh's jingle dress to the park's Aboriginal Liaison Officer. The plan was to take the dress to the elementary school and get the students excited about Aboriginal Days. I asked my niece Teslin -- now a teenager – if she could return the jingle dress.  

And that is when disaster struck. 

Teslin couldn't find the dress. It was my sister who gave me the sad news. When she'd married her wonderful warden the previous year, they'd held a huge garage sale. The jingle dress had been sold. And she couldn't remember to whom.  

So we started hunting. My sister contacted everyone she thought might have bought the dress. We called the elementary school teachers and the local Girl Guides leader, thinking one their kids might have it. I sent out email descriptions to the museum patrons, the quilting group, the yoga class, and to Wayne Kennedy's community email list. Wayne's emails are the way everyone in Jasper finds out what's happening in town.  

No one had seen the dress. 

It was like a death in the family.  

Months went by and every once in a while, a Jasperite I'd only just met would ask me, "did you ever find that dress?" 

I'd tell them no. 

We'd given up on the idea we would ever find it when I received a message on my phone from someone named Sue Cesco. 

"I know where your jingle dress is." 

I still tear up when I remember this moment. 

"It's in Salmon Arm".  

Salmon Arm? How did it get there? And how does Sue Cesco know? 

And who is Sue Cesco anyway? 

Sue Cesco, it turns out, is the Manager of the Friends of Jasper National Park. She'd seen the plea I had sent to the museum's list, and recognized the dress from my description. 

"My mother was visiting from Kamloops,” she explained when we connected, “she went to your sister's garage sale. She bought the dress for my niece Natasha. Natasha lives in Salmon Arm. I'll ask her if she would mind giving it back". 

Natasha, sweet child, did not object. And no, I wasn’t allowed to reimburse them for it.

That was three years ago. Ceilidh, now 24, is the dress's caretaker again.  

And every once in a while someone asks me about the jingle dress, and we have a great chat about it. The chat that eventually leads to the theme of Jasper's community, a place where it can take a long time for people to think of you as a 'local', but where community is close nonetheless. Jasper, thank goodness is not big, it's small!