There once was an Ojibwe girl who had become very sick, so her father asked for a vision in hopes her life might be spared. That night, he dreamed of a special dress and a dance that went with it. Immediately after, he made the dress and put it on his sick daughter. From his vision, he told her how to perform the dance, and as she danced she was cured.
From then on, the jingle dress dance has been associated with healing, something the Concha family of Taos Pueblo has been seeking ever since one of their own was taken from them in an act of violence four years ago.
Of the things to watch for at this year's Taos Pueblo Powwow (July 7-9), there will be special dance and drum contests to honor people who were prominent to some degree in the Native American powwow world and who are no longer with us. They are Nicolas Sul Concha, John Paul Mondragon and Joe David Marcus.
It is the "special" for Nicolas Concha that has brought friends and family together this year to help bring closure to a period of pain and anguish, according to his aunt, Alice Martinez. She said it is important to finally "release him back into the spirit world, because the powwow is a place where you can be healed. When you heal, you sing with other singers, other drum groups and then you dance. They're such awesome songs. It just fills your heart. It makes you want to cry, but at the same time it gives you strength to carry on what he wanted to do."
It was a Saturday night in 2013 – the day after a Thanksgiving Powwow at the Taos Pueblo Community Center where Nicolas Concha sang with his drum group, Hail Creek – that he encountered a local plumber named Jorden Medina, 52. According to a police report, an altercation took place between the two men. At some point, Medina retrieved a handgun from his truck and shot and killed Concha, who was unarmed. Later, that same night, Medina turned himself in to New Mexico State Police.
In December 2014, Medina was sentenced to one year in prison for the shooting. Sentencing memorandums filed by both U.S. Attorney Damon Martínez and a public defender representing Medina suggest Nicolas Concha attacked him, The Taos News reported.
"We feel that this sentence sends a message that it is justifiable to murder a Native American and get away with it," Alice Martinez told The Taos News in a Dec. 10, 2014 article. "You just plead ‘self-defense' and the law is on your side."
Martinez spoke to The Taos News Sunday (July 2) at a fundraiser for the specials, featuring Taos Pueblo hip hop and drum group Po.10.Cee at FaraHNHeight Gallery. "There's a young man who used to sing with him, his name's Kenny Brown, he sings with Southern Cree Juniors, but he has his own drum group called the Horse Drum Group, and so he's bringing a song down to the family. I guess he made it as soon as he found out that Sul passed away. So, to honor his memory, he's been wanting to give it to the family. When my sister and I went to the Denver March Powwow this year, we saw him there and he asked us where he could bring the song and before we told him we were having the jingle dress special he said 'It's a jingle dress side-step song,' so it's like it was meant to be to have this memorial for him."
Martinez recalled Concha as "an awesome composer. He could pick up any song he'd hear on the powwow trail and sing it to you, and then he'd make his own songs. He also knew how to sing traditional round dance songs at Taos Pueblo and also the corn dance songs and the deer dance, buffalo dance and all the ceremonial songs that non-Natives don't hear. "He was just a gifted, talented young man. He was a loved son, nephew, grandson, brother, uncle and dad," Martinez said. "It was so sweet, the last summer he spent at Taos powwow, my sister Michelle and I kept saying, 'Yeah, we're going to do the jingle dress' and then he got after us, saying, 'Aunties, you keep saying that every year, when are you going to make your outfit? You better do that next year.' And so I started dancing jingle dress, I was a fancy shawl dancer, and so I'm just dancing for him and for my family to keep his spirit and his memory alive, just the love he had for all of us."
"He loved everybody and we've had so much support from the community at Taos Pueblo and out here at FaraHNHeight Gallery, everywhere we've been going to sell raffle tickets to raise money," she said."It's $500 for the hand drum contest, winner-takes-all, $500 for the jingle dress, also winner-takes-all, and then we also have a hand drum that was donated by Steven Toya of Jemez Pueblo. We're going to be giving that away for the hand drum special on Sunday (July 9). The jingle dress special will be Saturday evening (July 8), after some of the contests are over."
In a sentencing memorandum from 2014, Medina admitted that "he made a mistake when he shot Mr. Concha in self-defense," according to Medina's lawyer.
"It's a difficult time," Martinez said. "Our lives are forever altered because of that and what he took away from us. This is our final tribute to Nicolas. We'll never forget him."