Unreserved

How a dress in a pawn shop led to a Juno nomination for Leonard Sumner

The the most surprising inspiration for a song on Leonard Sumner's album, might be the moment when he saw a jingle dress hanging in a pawn shop.

'Every line ... is a part of a true reflection of my life,' musician says of his album Standing in the Light

Leonard Sumner’s latest album, Standing in the Light, is nominated for a 2019 Indigenous Music Album Juno Award. (Submitted by Leonard Sumner)
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Singer-songwriter Leonard Sumner drew from a wide range of personal stories and memories to create his Juno-nominated album Standing in the Light.

But the most surprising inspiration might be the moment years ago when he saw a jingle dress hanging in a pawn shop.

"That probably shouldn't be in a pawn shop," Sumner, an Anishinaabe musician from Little Saskatchewan First Nation in Manitoba, recalled thinking.

"It's supposed to be a dress for healing. And there's, what some would say, a sacred story connected to that dress. And to see it there was just disheartening," he told Unreserved.

That image of the jingle dress stayed with him.
The cones on jingle dresses make noise as the dancer wearing it performs. (T.J. Warren )

"I sat with those thoughts. And I was like 'Man, I wonder like if I could somehow include that in a song someday?'"

His thoughts eventually made it into his song The Ceremony, as he describes a woman saving her dress from a Saskatoon pawn shop.

The Ceremony, like  the rest of the songs in his album Standing in the Light, draws from memories, moments and ceremonies from Sumner's life.

"Every line, every piece of that, is part of a true reflection of my life," he said.

The album is nominated for the Indigenous Music Album Award at the 2019 Junos.

This is Sumner's second album, and his first Juno nomination. He said he's had his eye on a potential Juno win for years.

"The nomination itself feels like a victory for me," he said.