Back to her roots

Ferris student reconnects with her Native American culture

Accounting senior Tianna Halfaday and her jingle dress. Photo courtesy of Tianna Halfaday

Accounting senior Tianna Halfaday came to Ferris after living her entire life on the federally recognized Hannahville Potawatomi tribe reservation in the Upper Peninsula.

“Living on the reservation isn’t any different than living somewhere else except we have more of a traditional household,” Halfday said. “I attended a school off the reservation. It was a little strange though because despite being only a couple miles from home I still faced racism. Then going home some community members assumed we thought we were better than them because we had a life off the reservation too.”

Halfaday said that when she came to Ferris she felt alone and exposed. After being around her native friends and family her whole life she didn’t have anyone to relate to at Ferris. She felt strange about talking about her culture to other people but she eventually met friends who wanted to learn about her culture.

“When my uncle passed away I wanted to get more in touch with my culture,” Halfaday said. Her uncle passed away in 2017 as she was preparing to move to Big Rapids.

One way she found to reconnect with her culture is by dancing.

“This is a jingle dress,” Halfaday said about the picture on the right. “They’re very, very sacred. In powwows they are used as a healing dress. So when we dance in these dresses we say healing prayers and dedicate the song to someone who needs healing. There’s two things that need to be done in order to wear a jingle dress. One way is, you have to fast for the dress. No drinking or eat for 4 days and 4 nights. This is done to cleanse your mind and body. The second is you can have a dream about it. Typically the dreams are dancing in the dress for healing purposes.”

Halfaday said that there is an exception which she fell under. You can win one during a powwow. Halfaday won hers during the 2019 Hannahville powwow right after telling her father that she wanted to go through the steps to start jingle dress dancing.

Powows are a gathering to celebrate Native American culture. There are two types of powwows; traditional and competition. The only differnce between the two is in competition the dancers are competiting against each other. At powwows one of the main events is the dancing. Different dances include exhibition and intertribal. Intertribal means that everyone is allowed to join in and dance. Exhibiton dances are based on regalias (the clothing they wear) and different drumbeats.

Some exhibiton dances include jingle dress, fancy shawl, men’s traditional, women’s traditional, grass dance and men’s fancy. Halfaday practicipates in fancy shawl.

“I remember owning a regalia when I was 6 or 7,” Halfaday said. “I have been dancing since I could walk, at least 15 years.”

Halfaday hasn’t started dancing jingle dress yet but plans to start soon.