Through My Lens: Dancing For Those Who Could Not

Through My Lens is a new community series that features the first-person stories behind photos from across the East Coast.

Jesse Benjamin has found healing through the power of dance.

Grateful. Free. Proud. Strong.

Dancing For Those Who Could Not (Jesse Benjamin)

Those words are the closest that I can come to describing how I felt in this moment. I felt as if my heart might explode from my chest, it was so bursting with joy. It was a day I will never forget.

September 30 was Orange Shirt Day, when we remember the thousands of children who were taken away to Residential Schools and those children who never returned home. We remember the many families torn apart as they attempted to kill our culture. October 1 was Treaty Day and the start of Mi'kmaq Heritage Month. That was the day I became a Fancy Shawl Dancer.

I danced for the very first time at the Saulnierville Wharf Powwow, here in Nova Scotia. At the very same place that my fellow Mi'kmaq were recently attacked, harassed, and terrorized for exerting their constitutional Treaty Right to fish lobster and earn a moderate livelihood. I could not think of a more powerful and meaningful way to start this new journey of mine. 

In our culture we are taught that dancing is healing. We are taught to dance for those who cannot. My dancing represents my own fight to reclaim my culture and that of many generations past who fought to keep it alive. 

I grew up off-Reserve in a non-Indigenous household. I grew up without my language and without mentors to learn from. For much of my life I have always felt displaced and struggled with how to connect more deeply to my own culture.

A year ago I decided I wanted to learn to dance. My love for fitness meant that dancing and movement was already a language I understood. I practiced at home in my basement. I learned the types of dances, the structure of the songs, the footwork, the types of regalia (traditional outfits) I would need to dance one day. So I decided to set out on the next part of my journey: learning to make my own regalia. I poured myself into this project for months. I learned little by little, step by step. It was as if I was rebuilding all that lost knowledge piece by piece. Reconnecting, remembering, and reclaiming my culture at last.

I feel whole again. I am finally the person I was always meant to be. 

This is me: a proud Indigenous woman and a Mi'kmaq dancer.

Through My Lens is a new community series that features the point-of-view stories behind photos from across the East Coast.


Jesse Benjamin


Jesse Benjamin is an Indigenous woman, mom of four, veterinarian, and online personal trainer from Nova Scotia. You can find her on Instagram at @melgignatfit.