The jingle dress came to Shannon Bear in a dream.

She was working with the University of Winnipeg, travelling to First Nations communities to engage and encourage young people. But after speaking to youth on one particular Manitoba reserve, she was left shaken and upset - and didn't know what was wrong.

"I went to sleep that evening and dreamt that the youth were really sick," said Bear. "They were just so damaged from suicide attempts and drugs."

Bear, who has travelled to powwows and cultural gatherings with her family since she was a child, said she couldn't shake the troubling feeling. The next day, after attending a ceremony in the community, it came to her.

"I had a vision of a jingle dress, and the jingles were shaking in the dream," said Bear. "I didn't question it too long, I just went ahead, had the dress made, and started dancing."

Shannon Bear

Bear hopes the Portage and Main dance will inspire a discussion on the state of Indigenous people in Canada. (Shannon Bear)

Since then, she has spent much of her time visiting communities across the prairies to share the power of the healing jingle dress dance. Having been a part of Anishinaabe tradition since the 1920s, it has come to play an important part in powwows and spiritual gatherings.

Bear says that young Aboriginal women in particular are eager to learn about the dress and embrace their roles as leaders and healers in their own communities.

“They want to be recognized and valued and loved,” said Bear. “And they want to do something that will enrich their future. The dress helps them do that.”

And as a young Aboriginal woman herself, she’s seen the healing impact it has had first-hand.

“My cousin took her own life,” said Bear. “I took about a year to grieve, and during that time the only thing I had that was good and important in my life was the jingle dress.”

Bear and other dancers will be on hand to share their message on Saturday morning, when thousands of people from all walks of life are expected to converge on Portage and Main. They're gathering to greet James Anaya, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

She says it is an opportunity for Aboriginal people to share their story - to be heard, and to continue addressing the many challenges they face in today’s Canada.

“It’s to bring awareness to people internationally and locally,” said Bear. “I hope that people take away a connection with Indigenous people, to know that we are all alike and related.”